Appalachia Christmas Music

The Silent Stars Go By

Oh beautiful star of bethlehem

Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem was written by Phillips Brooks, the pastor who spoke at Abraham Lincoln’s funeral service. Before becoming a pastor, Brooks taught at Boston’s Latin School. Brooks was discouraged by his students lack of interest and left his position to attend the Episcopal Theological Seminary. After Brooks graduated in 1859 he was asked to pastor the Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia.

Brooks was very successful. He was widely known as a powerful and persuasive speaker. Under Brooks guidance the church grew and prospered. But as the Civil War began to take a tole on the entire country, members of the church began to fall away and Brooks found it harder and harder to offer them the peace they so desperately needed.

When the war finally ended, Brooks thought the healing of his church and the country might began, however the unexpected death of Lincoln shattered his dreams.

After speaking at Lincoln’s funeral Brooks took a sabbatical to the Holy Land in an effort to reconnect with his God and to allow his mind and body to rest. Brooks visited during the Christmas season and was able to ride a horse along the route Joseph and Mary took from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

As Brooks rode alone in the darkness with the stars shining above him he was moved in an overpowering manner. Brooks felt like he was able to experience a small taste of the magic and wonder that must have been alive on that very first Christmas.

Once Brooks returned from his trip abroad he had a renewed strength to pastor his church. He wanted to share his Christmas in Bethlehem experience with his congregation and the world at large but he always seemed to fall short when he tried to convey the feelings of awe and wonder he experienced.

A few years later, as the Christmas season quickly approached, Brooks tried once more to put his experience into the most meaningful words. Proceeding differently than he had in the past, Brooks simply wrote down what came to mind-and as he did-Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem was born.

Brooks shared his newly written poem with his friend, Lewis Redner. Redner was moved by the poem and finally understood the breadth of what his friend had experienced while visiting the Holy Land.

Redner tried in vain to compose a line of music that would fit the words Brooks had penned. On December 24 Redner accepted defeat and went to bed. The perfect tune came to Redner in his sleep-it fit the poem perfectly.

The song become an instant hit in the Philadelphia area and by the time Brooks died in 1893 Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem had become a favorite Christmas Carol across the country and beyond.

A quote from the book Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas gives us an interesting view of both Brooks and the song:

“In a sermon Brooks once said, “It is while you are patiently toiling at the little tasks of life that the meaning and shape of the great whole of life dawns on you.” On a horse, in a tiny village, a half a world away form his home and family, the meaning of Phillips Brooks’s life and the purpose behind his work were brought into sharp focus.”

I like the quote from Brooks-I firmly believe the little bits of every day life are what make life so precious. Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem is my all time favorite Christmas Song. And I love Pap and Paul’s version of the song. You can hear it for yourself below and it’s also on Pap and Paul’s cd Songs of Christmas. Fascinating history of the song-I hope you enjoyed.



We are very grateful and humbled by all you folks who have purchased Pap and Paul’s Songs of Christmas cds-THANK YOU! It really is packed with some of the best Christmas music I have ever heard. You can go here-Pap and Paul’s Music to purchase a cd.


*Source: Collins, Ace. Stories behind the best-loved songs of Christmas. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001. Print.

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  • Reply
    December 11, 2013 at 1:10 am

    Thank you, Tipper, for the story behind the songs…makes them so much more dearer to my heart.

  • Reply
    Judy Mincey
    December 8, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    I love the cd, it is our favorite at the office.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 8, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    Jackie-I was invited to a cantata at a church in Spartanburg, SC but I declined. My wife’s three nieces were in it. These three girls can really sing but I think the “Church” stuff has lead them astray. Christmas is about glorifying God, not a church membership and not its choir. Those old fashioned church Christmas plays are as good as it gets. You know, where all the children played a part and no child was left behind even if that Saturday night is the only time he was in church in a year.

  • Reply
    Ken Ryan
    December 8, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    Shawn, I think I’ll cross my fingers and have a try at winning one of those cd’s

  • Reply
    wayne smith
    December 8, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    i am inspired by this story. really got me into the christ-mas spirit.

  • Reply
    Phyllis S
    December 8, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    One of my very favorites since I was a child ever so many years ago and none better to sing it than Pap and Paul. Thank you!

  • Reply
    December 8, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    The song was beautiful. Thanks for telling the story.

  • Reply
    December 8, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Amen to Ed Ammons. Also, Bradley’s Eskimo proverb is lovely. They add extra meaning to a beautiful Christmas song.

  • Reply
    December 8, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    I enjoy listening to your family every day. I can understand the words. I just got home from church where I sat through a Christmas cantata. I understood the words to about two of the songs – probably because I knew them. The rest were just noise. Maybe its my age.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 8, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    I loved this post today. I enjoy the song history lessons. Many I have read in the past. But, as we age (or at least, 73 Oh, me!) I seem to put things way back in the corner until someone like you reminds me of them again.
    When Gayle said, she felt bad for the children not being able to sing the songs today…Well, that hit me like a ton of Camels! What! I guess it is true in a lot of the school systems today.
    When I was in elementry school (forties, fifties), singing at Christmas was part of the joy of Christmas and school. Our school was your regular parent tax paid state sponcered school…We had a fun Christmas time of about a 10 or 15 minutes, enjoying the season and singing Christmas Carols and the traditional Christmas songs, like Jingle Bells, and here comes Santa Claus!
    We did this practically every day, and for sometimes longer if it was a very rainy, or cold day and recess was impossible. Sometimes it was at the beginning of the day or sometimes at the end of the day..However, time the poor teacher thought she needed and we needed a break! The excitement of Christmas is a very hard time for teachers to grasp the attention of young ones!
    I remember one teacher, (yes, I sat on the front row) she was a little old lady, I thought back then! When we sang ever day “Away in the Manger”, I know I saw her tear up in the corner of her eyes, more than once! I don’t think it was our bad singing, I think she really loved the children and loved hearing us sing and of course the special meaning of Christmas to her…
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS….By the way, that same teacher had a 5 minute devotion everyday…She told us we could listen or we could read!
    I was usually chosen to pick a small verse to read…she never challenged my choice..Being so young, I probably didn’t know the meanings of some of my choices…
    She didn’t have us pray, but some listened to the (reading practice) of the verse reading.
    As she called it!
    A very smart teacher!
    And a very sweet little old lady teacher…She actually lived her name…Ms. Sweet…she was never married!

  • Reply
    John Reese
    December 8, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    Beautiful story . If only the rest of the Country and the disbelievers would pay heed to GODs story, what a wonderful country it would be. It would be great if the Christians were not persecuted at every step, but we were from the time Christ started teaching.

  • Reply
    Shawn J
    December 8, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Yay, I won. Thank you Tipper!!
    [email protected]

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    December 8, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    We can always count on you to tell
    the story behind a song. Thank you!
    Knowledge is a powerful thing…Ken

  • Reply
    December 8, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    Great story behind a favorite Christmas song of mine. Pap and Paul’s version is definitely my favorite now!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 8, 2013 at 11:19 am

    The first Christmas was nothing like we see today. There were no piles of food. No stockings above a fireplace. No presents under a tree. No lighted characters bobbing in the yard. No miles of garland snaking through the Mall.
    The only decorations that were there, were the twinkling stars that God hung out. We have twinkling lights now on our trees and in our windows but they are gaudy imitations of those still hanging in the night sky from two thousand and thirteen years ago. God left his decorations up to remain us of His second most important promise to all of humanity.

  • Reply
    Susie Swanson
    December 8, 2013 at 11:09 am

    I’ve never known the story behind it. Thanks for telling us Tipper.

  • Reply
    Gary Powell
    December 8, 2013 at 9:55 am

    Amazing to me that someone could just pluck such beautiful words and music out of their head. Enjoy the story. Love the Christmas music!

  • Reply
    Ken Kuhlmann
    December 8, 2013 at 9:54 am

    I guess that I never thought about where a song came from. Thanks for telling us the story of this song.
    Have a Merry Christmas.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    December 8, 2013 at 9:49 am

    I love hearing Pap & Paul sing the Friendly Beasts — starts my morning off right. Today I had some help reading your blog — my 2 1/2-year-old great grandson. He saw the site and starting saying oink! oink! Now I’m getting kisses (I think he’s getting ready to bargain for something) Have a great, blessed Sunday

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    December 8, 2013 at 9:44 am

    I feel bad for young children who will never experience singing these
    wonderful old Christmas songs.
    They are some of my most precious memories
    I start playing them the week after

  • Reply
    Ray P. Algee
    December 8, 2013 at 8:55 am

    After many years of listening to and singing this beautiful Christmas song, this is the first time I remember hearing its origin.
    Once again Tipper, thank you for making our day better.

  • Reply
    steve in tn
    December 8, 2013 at 8:43 am

    one of the best songs of christmas. thanks for the story of its origin.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    December 8, 2013 at 8:35 am

    Although I had read the story behind Philip Brooks’ “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” I enjoyed reading it again. Thank you! Each carol has a story behind it, if only we knew them! Just like most of our experiences–especially those that matter much to us and perhaps to others–are couched in a life-situation that is both memorable and meaningful. And may this Christmas be just that–memorable and meaningful–for each reader of The Blind Pig! If you’d like to read one of my stories of how Christmas impacted my life in a meaningful way, go to my today’s BlogSpot at this site address:

  • Reply
    Jerry in Arkansas
    December 8, 2013 at 7:54 am

    I’m getting in the Christmas mood with all the sleet and freezing rain we’ve had this week. At least our power stayed on for which I’m very thankful.

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    December 8, 2013 at 7:54 am

    I have heard Oh Little Town of Bethlehem all my life. I had never read the story behind it. Thanks

  • Reply
    December 8, 2013 at 7:48 am

    Tipper, you give so much depth and importance to things most people just take for granted. I had always loved “Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem”, but I had never actually listened closely to the words. This song always took me back to the Christmas of my childhood, and seems a little out of place in a Christmas that has become too commercialized. Pap and Paul did a wonderful are getting better all the time.

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    December 8, 2013 at 7:46 am

    that is one of my favorite Christmas songs, too, Tipper. thanks for the history behind the writing of it.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 8, 2013 at 7:27 am

    Yes, Tipper, life is lived in the every day moments and that is where we make or break ourselves.
    It’s a beautiful song and congratulations to Shawn!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 8, 2013 at 7:23 am

    O Little Town of Bethlehem is a powerful song/poem. The Eskimo Proverb is beautiful.

  • Reply
    Linda Johnson
    December 8, 2013 at 7:00 am

    Your little posts give so much insight into the carols we know and yet don’t know enough about. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Carol Isler
    December 8, 2013 at 6:30 am

    I love the stories behind the music.

  • Reply
    December 8, 2013 at 5:17 am

    “The silent stars go by.” Is that not powerful? It is comforting to ponder. What are they? How did they come to be? What is their origin? What power brought them into being? I think I know but am not able to explain just now. Thanks for this post this morning Tipper.
    The other evening my daughter sent me this ancient Eskimo Proverb from work concerning stars. It said, “Perhaps they are not stars, rather openings in Heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy!” And all this is in silence. I believe this will be a good Christmas!
    I just might win this time and get that CD and if I do I’m gonna play Silent Night first!

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