This 150-Year-Old Christmas Carol Was Written Right Here in Philadelphia

David Bjorkgren

The well-known Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” was divinely inspired at the Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, writes Jennifer Lin for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The carol was created by two friends, a rector and his organist, in 1868, built on procrastination and an angelic visit.

Church vicar, the Rev. Philips Brooks, wrote a poem following a trip to the Holy Land.

He asked church organist Lewis Redner to set the poem to music, for performance at the church’s Christmas service.

Redner was a little busy working in real estate and playing the organ for four churches, so the assignment kept getting delayed.

Two days before the Sunday Christmas service, Redner still had no song.

He went to bed Saturday night, then suddenly awoke, “hearing an angel-strain whispering in my ear.”

He wrote it down, then filled in the harmony.

“The spirit descends perhaps when we’re open,” said the now-retired Holy Trinity vicar, Rev. Alan Neale, speaking to the Inquirer in 2008.

These days, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is sung at every Holy Trinity Christmas service with great pride.

Read more about the origins of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in The Philadelphia Inquirer.