It Came Upon A Midnight Clear


  • The words for this American carol are based on a poem written by a young Unitarian minister in Massachusetts, Reverend Edmund Hamilton Sears (1810-1876), reportedly at the request of his friend and fellow minister, W.P. Lunt. It was first presented at his 1849 Sunday School Christmas celebration and was originally published on December 29, 1849 in a church magazine, The Christian Register. The poem was not the first Christmas poetry by Sears; he had written other Nativity lyrics and several books on religious topics. In addition, he was the editor for the Boston-based Monthly Religious Magazine from 1859 to 1871.

    The following year, inspired by the poem, a friend of Sears, Richard Storrs Willis(1819-1900), adapted the words to a melody called "Carol," which he had written for the organ. Willis, who was an eminent editor and critic for The New York Tribune, had studied music in Europe as a young man with, among others, Felix Mendelssohn, the composer of the music for "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." Mendelssohn so much admired Willis's work that he rearranged some of it for orchestra.
  • It could be claimed that this was the first Christmas song to be composed in the United States, and today it is considered a standard. In the mid 1850s the Americans were only beginning to celebrate the Christmas traditions of their English forebearers. The influence of works such as A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens were beginning to enthuse the American nation. Within 20 years other classic carols celebrating Christmas such as "We Three Kings of Orient Are," "Jingle Bells," "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" and "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" had been written in the United States.
  • In 2006 Daryl Hall and John Oates reached #1 on the American Adult Contemporary chart with their version of this carol.

Comments: 3

  • Frederic from VirginiaThe title of the hymn is "It Came Upon The Midnight Clear". Often misnamed, often mis-sung.
  • Kevin from Salt Lake City, UtBob Rivers recorded a spoof "I Came Upon A Road-kill Deer".
  • Terry from Willmar, Mn"Still through the cloven..." What's cloven? Well, you've heard of cloven hoofs, as in the devil or deer, etc.? Cloven mean split. The skies split open and the angels came out.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Janis Ian

Janis IanSongwriter Interviews

One of the first successful female singer-songwriters, Janis had her first hit in 1967 at age 15.

Desmond Child

Desmond ChildSongwriter Interviews

One of the most successful songwriters in the business, Desmond co-wrote "Livin' La Vida Loca," "Dude (Looks Like A Lady)" and "Livin' On A Prayer."

Frankie Valli

Frankie ValliSong Writing

An interview with Frankie Valli, who talks about why his songs - both solo and with The Four Seasons - have endured, and reflects on his time as Rusty Millio on The Sopranos.

Kip Winger

Kip WingerSongwriter Interviews

The Winger frontman reveals the Led Zeppelin song he cribbed for "Seventeen," and explains how his passion for orchestra music informs his songwriting.

David Bowie Lyrics Quiz

David Bowie Lyrics QuizMusic Quiz

How well do you know your David Bowie lyrics? Take this quiz to find out.

The End Of The Rock Era

The End Of The Rock EraSong Writing

There are no more rock stars - the last one died in 1994.