'O Little Town of Bethlehem' Lyrics and Guitar Chords

Learn Christmas Carols on Guitar

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Bob Dylan recorded 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' on his 2009 Christmas album. Brian Shuel | Getty Images


  • "O Little Town of Bethlehem" Lyrics

Guitar Chords:



History of 'O Little Town of Bethlehem'

This extremely popular Christmas carol was written by a Philadelphia-based Episcopal priest Phillips Brooks. The inspiration for the hymn was based on an experience Brooks had in 1865 when visiting Bethlehem in the Sanjak of Jerusalem as part of a year’s vacation traveling in Europe and the East.

It took Brooks three years - until 1868 - to write the carol, which we then brought to Lewis Redner, the organist, superintendent and church school teacher at their Church of the Holy Trinity in Philadelphia. Redner provided the music, based on a tune he had written called "St. Louis". The carol was first printed in the 1868 Sunday-school programme for the Church of the Holy Trinity.

Despite the legacy of this Christmas carol, the creation of its music was a hurried affair. Says Mr. Redner:

"As Christmas of 1868 approached, Mr. Brooks told me that he had written a simple little carol for the Christmas Sunday-school service, and he asked me to write the tune to it. The simple music was written in great haste and under great pressure. We were to practice it on the following Sunday." "On the Saturday night previous my brain was all confused about the tune. I thought more about my Sunday-school lesson than I did about the music.

But I was roused from sleep late in the night hearing an angel-strain whispering in my ear, and seizing a piece of music paper I jotted down the treble of the tune as we now have it, and on Sunday morning before going to church I filled in the harmony."

Response to the initial performances of the song were not overwhelming - there is little evidence to suggest people began including the carol in other services.

Over time, however, "O Little Town of Bethlehem" became known within the Protestant Episcopal Church. By 1890, the carol had begun to be included in hymnals used in church worship.

Modern Interpretations of 'O Little Town of Bethlehem'

This carol has been a favorite of crooners in the 1940s all the way through to modern artists like Sarah McLachlan and Mariah Carey. Guitar players will be interested in hearing virtuoso Tuck Andress' recording of the carol from his 1991 recording Hymns, Carols and Songs About Snow. You can listen to Andress' version on YouTube. Even Bob Dylan has recorded the song, as one of the tracks on his controversial 2009 recording Christmas in the Heart. If you're curious, you can also check out Dylan singing "O Little Town of Bethlehem" on YouTube.

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Your Citation
Cross, Dan. "'O Little Town of Bethlehem' Lyrics and Guitar Chords." ThoughtCo, May. 18, 2016, thoughtco.com/o-little-town-of-bethlehem-lyrics-and-chords-1711968. Cross, Dan. (2016, May 18). 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' Lyrics and Guitar Chords. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/o-little-town-of-bethlehem-lyrics-and-chords-1711968 Cross, Dan. "'O Little Town of Bethlehem' Lyrics and Guitar Chords." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/o-little-town-of-bethlehem-lyrics-and-chords-1711968 (accessed December 11, 2017).