There is an essential “Englishness” to many of the best carols. These songs are built around sturdy, singable melodies; rich harmonies; and thoughtful, theological lyrics.
One of the best known English carols is “Once in Royal David’s City”. It has been used for years as the opening song of the Service of Lessons and Carols at Westmiunster Cathedral. The carol was written Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander, the Irish-born wife of an Anglican priest. It was originally published as a children’s song.
1. Once in royal David’s city
stood a lowly cattle shed,
where a mother laid her baby
in a manger for his bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child.
2. He came down to earth from heaven,
who is God and Lord of all,
and his shelter was a stable,
and his cradle was a stall;
with the poor, the scorned, the lowly,
lived on earth our Savior holy.
3. And our eyes at last shall see him,
through his own redeeming love;
for that Child who seemed so helpless
is our Lord in heaven above;
and he leads his children on
to the place where he is gone.
4. Not in that poor lowly stable,
with the oxen standing by,
we shall see him; but in heaven,
set at God’s right hand on high;
when like stars his children crowned,
all in white shall wait around.
Listen to this version — with the congregation singing, too — from Westminster.