Unveiling the Mystique of What Child Is This?: A Timeless Melody of Christmas Wonder
In the realm of Christmas carols, “What Child Is This?” stands as a timeless melody that has echoed through the centuries, captivating hearts with its hauntingly beautiful tune and evocative lyrics. This classic carol, with its roots in the 19th century, has become an integral part of the Christmas musical repertoire, resonating with people across generations and cultures. In this article by Academic Block we will delve into the origins, meaning, and enduring significance of “What Child Is This?” Here, we will uncover a rich tapestry of history, faith, and the universal spirit of Christmas.
The history of “What Child Is This?” dates back to the mid-19th century, a time when Christmas carols were experiencing a revival in England. In 1865, William Chatterton Dix, an English hymnwriter and layman, penned the lyrics under the title “The Manger Throne.” This hymn was set to the tune of “Greensleeves,” a traditional English folk song believed to have originated in the 16th century. The fusion of Dix’s profound words with the haunting melody of “Greensleeves” resulted in the creation of “What Child Is This?”
The choice of the tune adds an intriguing layer to the carol’s essence. “Greensleeves,” with its origins as a secular ballad, had already woven itself into the fabric of English culture. The transformation of this melody into a vehicle for conveying the sacred narrative of the Nativity speaks to the adaptability and universal appeal of music in expressing profound emotions and beliefs.
“What Child Is This?” opens with a question that transcends time and space, inviting listeners to contemplate the mystery of the Christ child. The lyrics paint vivid images of the humble birth in Bethlehem, invoking scenes of shepherds and angels bearing witness to the miraculous event. The verses carry a sense of wonder and reverence, capturing the essence of the Christmas story in a poetic and contemplative manner.
Dix’s choice of words is both evocative and thought-provoking. Lines such as “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the cross be borne for me, for you” delve into the profound theology of Christ’s sacrifice, reminding us of the dual nature of Christmas—the celebration of birth and the foreshadowing of the redemptive journey that lies ahead. The juxtaposition of the joyous occasion with the somber foretelling of Christ’s eventual crucifixion adds depth and complexity to the carol, elevating it beyond a mere retelling of the Nativity.
The marriage of Dix’s poignant lyrics with the haunting melody of “Greensleeves” is nothing short of musical alchemy. The lilting and melancholic notes of the tune imbue the carol with a sense of introspection and nostalgia. The choice of “Greensleeves” as the vehicle for this sacred narrative introduces an element of timelessness, bridging centuries and connecting listeners across cultural and religious divides.
The carol’s musical arrangement, with its minor key and gentle tempo, enhances the contemplative mood of the lyrics. The delicate interplay of melody and harmony creates a soundscape that mirrors the emotional journey of the Nativity story—from the quiet anticipation of the stable to the triumphant revelation of the newborn King. The arrangement of “What Child Is This?” thus becomes a crucial component of its enduring charm, ensuring its resonance in diverse musical settings, from traditional church choirs to contemporary renditions by artists across genres.
Over the decades, “What Child Is This?” has woven itself into the cultural fabric of Christmas celebrations worldwide. Its adaptability and enduring appeal have led to numerous interpretations and renditions by artists spanning genres from classical to folk, and rock to jazz. The carol has been recorded by iconic musicians such as Nat King Cole, Andrea Bocelli, and even contemporary artists like Lindsey Stirling, showcasing its timeless quality and ability to transcend musical boundaries.
The carol’s inclusion in Christmas services, concerts, and holiday playlists attests to its enduring popularity. Its lyrics, rooted in Christian theology, have also sparked reflection and discussion, making it a point of connection for those seeking deeper spiritual meaning during the Christmas season. The universality of the Nativity story, coupled with the emotive power of the carol, renders “What Child Is This?” a symbol of shared humanity and the joyous spirit of Christmas.
At its core, “What Child Is This?” serves as a vehicle for theological reflection on the significance of the Incarnation—the belief that God became flesh in the form of Jesus Christ. The carol invites listeners to ponder the mystery of the divine taking on human form, emphasizing the humility and vulnerability of Christ’s entry into the world. The lines “This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing,” encapsulate the paradox of a king born in a manger, heralded by celestial beings and yet surrounded by humble shepherds.
Moreover, the carol delves into the profound theological concept of redemption. The reference to the future crucifixion and the salvific work of Christ on the cross adds a layer of theological depth to the narrative. In doing so, “What Child Is This?” becomes not just a recounting of historical events but a proclamation of faith—a declaration of the transformative power of Christ’s birth and sacrifice.
In the grand tapestry of Christmas carols, “What Child Is This?” stands as a unique and enduring thread, weaving together history, music, theology, and cultural resonance. Its longevity can be attributed to the delicate balance struck between the profound lyrics of William Chatterton Dix and the haunting melody of “Greensleeves.” Together, they create a musical masterpiece that transcends time and cultural boundaries, resonating with people of various backgrounds and beliefs.
As we listen to the haunting strains of “What Child Is This?” during the Christmas season, we are invited to embark on a journey of contemplation—a journey that traverses the humble stable in Bethlehem, the adoration of shepherds, and the cosmic proclamation of angels. Through its evocative words and timeless melody, the carol continues to inspire wonder, reflection, and a sense of shared humanity, making it a cherished companion in the celebration of Christmas around the world. Please provide your comments below, it will help us in improving this article. Thanks for reading!
Lyrics of What Child Is This?
What child is this who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear; for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear, shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby;
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
Facts on the What Child Is This? Christmas carol
Authorship and Composition: “What Child Is This?” was written by English hymnwriter William Chatterton Dix in 1865. Dix penned the lyrics under the title “The Manger Throne.” The lyrics were later set to the traditional English folk tune “Greensleeves,” a melody that has its roots in the 16th century.
Background and Inspiration: William Chatterton Dix wrote the lyrics during a period of illness. The story goes that, during his convalescence, Dix underwent a spiritual renewal and wrote several hymns, including “What Child Is This?” The carol reflects on the Nativity story, contemplating the mystery of the Christ child’s birth, the shepherds’ adoration, and the eventual redemptive work of Jesus.
Musical Adaptation: The musical adaptation of “What Child Is This?” involves setting Dix’s lyrics to the tune of “Greensleeves,” a well-known English folk melody. The choice of “Greensleeves” adds a layer of historical and cultural richness to the carol, combining a traditional secular tune with sacred lyrics.
Liturgical Use: “What Child Is This?” is often associated with the Christmas season and is commonly sung in churches and religious gatherings during Advent and Christmas services. It has become a staple in Christmas carol collections and hymnals, used by various Christian denominations.
Theological Significance: The lyrics of the carol delve into theological themes, including the mystery of the Incarnation (God becoming flesh) and the redemptive work of Christ. Lines such as “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the cross be borne for me, for you” emphasize the connection between the birth of Jesus and his ultimate sacrifice on the cross.
Cultural Impact: “What Child Is This?” has had a lasting cultural impact, transcending its original context. It has been embraced by a wide range of musical genres and artists, attesting to its timeless appeal. Numerous recordings and renditions by artists from different backgrounds contribute to the carol’s continued popularity.
Adaptations in Popular Culture: The carol has been featured in various films, TV shows, and commercials, further embedding it in popular culture. Its adaptability has allowed for creative interpretations in different styles, from classical to contemporary, showcasing its versatility.
International Recognition: The carol’s universal themes and emotional resonance have contributed to its international recognition. It is sung and appreciated in various countries, transcending cultural and linguistic boundaries.
Continued Reverence: Over a century and a half since its composition, “What Child Is This?” continues to be a cherished part of Christmas celebrations, offering a blend of reflection, reverence, and joy during the holiday season.
Which Movie or Series Used this Carol?
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965): The beloved animated TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” features a scene where Linus recites the biblical account of the birth of Jesus, accompanied by the instrumental version of “What Child Is This?”
“The Office” (Season 2, Episode 10 – “Christmas Party”): In the American version of “The Office,” the carol is briefly sung by Angela during the office Christmas party.
“Elementary” (Season 2, Episode 12 – “The Diabolical Kind”): The carol is featured in an episode of the TV series “Elementary.”
“Criminal Minds” (Season 8, Episode 10 – “The Lesson”): “What Child Is This?” is used in a Christmas-themed episode of the popular crime drama series “Criminal Minds.”
“The West Wing” (Season 1, Episode 10 – “In Excelsis Deo”): The carol is part of the soundtrack of a Christmas episode of “The West Wing,” adding to the emotional resonance of the scenes.
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