What are the original lyrics to ‘O Holy Night’ – and who has recorded it?

5 December 2018, 16:23

From its original French lyrics to the most popular renditions of this Christmas classic, here’s everything you need to know about ‘O Holy Night’.

‘O Holy Night’ is a timeless Christmas carol, composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847.

The music was originally set to a French poem, 'Minuit, chrétiens' (Midnight, Christians) and released under the name 'Cantique de Noël'.

Adam was a French composer and music critic who wrote mostly operas and ballets. Alongside the opera Giselle (1841), ‘O Holy Night’ is one of his best known works.

Placide Cappeau, the author of the French lyrics, was a wine merchant and poet. Although he was never particularly religious, Cappeau was asked in 1843 to write a Christmas poem to celebrate the recent renovation of the church organ in his home town. He obliged and, soon after, Adolphe Adam composed the accompanying music.

The Choir of King's College, Cambridge regularly perform the carol at their Christmas service
The Choir of King's College, Cambridge regularly perform the carol at their Christmas service. Picture: Choir of King's College, Cambridge

When were the lyrics translated into English?

It was almost a decade after the song's composition that the lyrics were translated into English. Minister John Sullivan Dwight translated the French original into the lyrics we sing today in 1855.

What are the lyrics to 'O Holy Night'?

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;

Chorus
Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born.
O night, O holy night, O night divine.

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming;
With glowing hearts by his cradle we stand:
So, led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land,
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our friend;

Chorus
He knows our need, To our weakness no stranger!
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King! your King! before him bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is Love and His gospel is Peace;
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in his name all oppression shall cease,
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful Chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise his Holy name!

Chorus
Christ is the Lord, then ever! ever praise we!
His pow'r and glory, evermore proclaim!
His pow'r and glory, evermore proclaim!

Andrea Bocelli featured 'Cantique de Noël' on his Christmas album
Andrea Bocelli featured 'Cantique de Noël' on his Christmas album. Picture: Getty

What are the original French lyrics to 'O Holy Night'?

Minuit, chrétiens,
C'est l'heure solennelle
Ou l'Homme Dieu descendit jusqu'à nous
Pour effacer la tache originelle
Et de Son Père arrêter le courroux.
Le monde entier tressaille d'espérance
En cette nuit qui lui donne un Sauveur.
Peuple a genoux, attends ta délivrance!
Noel! Noel! Voici le Rédempteur!
Noel! Noel! Voici le Rédempteur!

Le Rédempteur
A brise toute entrave:
La terre est libre et le ciel est ouvert.
Il voit un Frère ou n'était qu'un esclave,
L'amour unit ceux qu'enchainait le fer.
Qui Lui dira notre reconnaissance?
C'est pour nous tous qu'Il nait,
Qu'Il souffre et meurt.
Peuple debout, chante ta délivrance!
Noel! Noel! Chantons le Rédempteur!
Noel! Noel! Chantons le Rédempteur!

Who has performed 'O Holy Night'?

As well as the popular annual performances by The Choir of King's College, Cambridge, many pop and classical music stars have put their own spin on the carol.

These include the classical crossover artists Josh Groban and Andrea Bocelli – who featured the original French version on his My Christmas album.

Mariah Carey also released a cover of the song alongside her chart-topper 'All I Want For Christmas is You' on her Merry Christmas album.

The Motown blues singer Nat King Cole also recorded the song in 1960, giving the vocals a looser metre and rhythmic structure.

Today, its popularity shows no sign of waning, as last year it was voted the Nation's Favourite Carol in the annual Classic FM poll.