In Dulci Jubilo: what are the lyrics to the Christmas carol?

14 December 2023, 13:05 | Updated: 15 December 2023, 10:48

'In Dulci Jubilo' by Praetorius, sung by Fair Oriana

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

From Praetorian polyphony to prog-rock and Pearsall – we explore the lyrics and history of the German-Latin carol made famous by Mike Oldfield.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

‘In Dulci Jubilo’ has worn many hats. There’s the ancient hymn, Pearsall’s 1837 macaronic English-Latin translation, and more recently, Mike Oldfield’s prog-rock, kazoo and flute-extravaganza of the 1970s.

It is one of today’s most popular Christmas carols, voted for the last five years into the top 20 of The Nation’s Favourite Carol on Classic FM, our annual countdown of the 30 greatest Christmas carols as voted for by listeners.

Here’s the incredible history of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols mainstay, and one of the most joyous tunes of the festive season...

What are the origins of ‘In Dulci Jubilo’?

The lilting, lively carol originated as a medieval dance. Its original, 14th-century setting was a macaronic carol, which alternated between German and Latin.

It has since had a number of translations into English, including J.M. Neale’s arrangement ‘Good Christian Men, Rejoice’. Bach arranged an organ version too, a chorale prelude often used at Christmas services today.

But the most popular is Pearsal’s triumphant 1837 setting, which retains the Latin phrases but substitutes German with English.

Read more: The 30 greatest Christmas carols of all time

Choir of King's College Cambridge rehearse for the Christmas Eve service broadcast around the world
Choir of King's College Cambridge rehearse for the Christmas Eve service broadcast around the world. Picture: Alamy

What does ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ mean?

‘In Dulci Jubilo’ means ‘In sweet rejoicing’ in Latin, reflecting the joy felt during the Christmas season over the centuries.

What are the famous versions of ‘In Dulci Jubilo’?

Mike Oldfield’s version, a jaunty arrangement featuring a recorder, flute, a kazoo, string synthesiser and a stonking electric guitar solo, reached No.4 in the UK Singles Chart in January 1976. It has since made its way onto many a Christmas compilation album.

German composer-organist Michael Praetorius also used the tune in several settings for voices only. Hear one above by Fair Oriana.

Read more: What are the lyrics to ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’, and what is the carol really about?

What are the lyrics to ‘In Dulci Jubilo’?

In dulci jubilo
Let us our homage shew:
Our heart’s joy reclineth
In praesepio;
And like a bright star shineth
Matris in gremio,
Alpha es et O!

O Jesu parvule,
My heart is sore for Thee!
Hear me, I beseech Thee,
O puer optime;
My praying let it reach Thee,
O princeps gloriae.
Trahe me post te.

O patris caritas!
O Nati lenitas!
Deeply were we stained.
Per nostra crimina:
But Thou for us hast gained
Coelorum gaudia,
Qualis gloria!

Ubi sunt gaudia,
If that they be not there?
There are Angels singing
Nova cantica;
And there the bells are ringing
In Regis curia.
O that we were there!

For non-stop uplifting classical Christmas music, listen to our Classic FM Christmas live playlist on Global Player.