This free, printable, unit study is a ministry of Heather Idoni,
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GOOD CHRISTIAN MEN REJOICE!
Any questions or comments regarding this unit may be sent to Heather Idoni.
While this unit is a study of 15 Christmas carols and hymns, it is intended to be flexible enough for every family's holiday schedule. You may choose to spend a couple of days on one song, do only one or 2 a week, or try to do them all. It is completely up to you. It is my prayer that the study of even one of these beautiful songs will bless your holiday season and help you focus on the reason for the season---our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.In addition to supplies needed with each specific activities, you will need copies of the words--and, if possible, the music to the following Christmas carols and hymns.
GOOD CHRISTIAN MEN REJOICE
O COME, O COME, EMMANUEL
ANGELS FROM THE REALMS OF GLORY
THOU DIDST LEAVE THY THRONE
AWAY IN A MANGER
JOY TO THE WORLD
COME TH0U LONG-EXPECTED JESUS
HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SING
O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM
WHILE SHEPHERDS WATCHED THEIR FLOCKS
IT CAME UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR
THE FIRST NOEL
I HEARD THE BELLS ON CHRISTMAS DAY
WE THREE KINGS
INTRODUCTIONAlthough I don't state it with each hymn, it goes without saying that you should sing or listen to the song of the day while doing your unit study.
You will probably want to spend the first day doing an introduction to the unit so your children will know what to expect and to build anticipation of what is to come.
1) Vocabulary: Carol, Hymn (The word "carol" originally referred to a dance being perfomed in a circle. Graduallywords were introduced to these dance songs and the spectators became involved as well. Later, the term "carol" came to be applied more to verses of song than dance. Christmas Carols refer to those songs that tell the story of the wondrous event of our Savior's birth. Christmas Hymns are those songs that address the Father, Son or Holy Spirit.)
2) Play, "Name that Tune" or "Charades" with each family member using their favorite Christmas Song.
3) Discuss the family favorites. Are they hymns or carols? Start a list that categorizes each song.
4) Bible: Read Psalm 100.
5) Make up a quiz on paper or as a game. Select various lines from different Christmas Carols and see who can match them up with the titles.
6) Family Activity: Spend your first night/day of this subject doing something your family traditionally does at Christmas or that you enjoy doing together. Let everyone tell what they enjoy doing together and try to incorporate as many as possible throughout the coming weeks before Christmas.
GOOD CHRISTIAN MEN REJOICE1) History: This is a 14th Century Latin carol, translated by John M. Neale (1818-1866)
2) Language: The original Latin title of this song is "In Dulci Jubilo" meaning "in sweet shouting". This is known as a "macaronic carol" because it combines 2 or more languages. In this case, German and Latin.........with a 19th Century English rendering by Mr. Neale.
3) Sing the song and try to learn the first verse.
4) English: Have your students make a newspaper announcing the birth of Jesus. Or, they could write a radio/TV news flash.
5) Discuss what it means to rejoice.
6) Determine to maintain the joy of Christmas in your home. Plan an activity that your family can do to bring joy into the life of a lonely person this Christmas.
7) Scripture verse: Isaiah 49:13
O COME, O COME, EMMANUEL1) History: A Latin hymn from the 12th Century. Again translated by John M. Neale. This song, originally sung in the medieval church is really a collection of "antiphons". Antiphons are short musical statements that were sung for the week of services just before Christmas Eve. Each one of the antiphons greets the anticipated Messiah with one of the titles given to Him throughout the Old Testament.
2) Select one or more of the names of Jesus from the song and talk about it. Find the Scripture verse that corresponds with the name. What is the verse saying?
3)Art: Make a poster or collage with the Names of Jesus on it. Hang it up for visitors to see.
4) Crafts: Make ornaments for your tree demonstrating the names.
5) Scripture verse: Luke 1:32,33
ANGELS FROM THE REALMS OF GLORY1) History: Written by James Montgomery (1771-1854). James Montgomery was orphaned at age six in the West Indies where his parents were missionaries. He was basically shuffled from one house to the next without really having any place to call "home". James was what we would call a "political activist." He was a newspaper man and prolific writer. He spoke out for justice and reform on many social issues. He was honored as the most important citizen of Sheffield, England from 1883 until his death. This carol was composed when he was 45 and studied the Scriptural account of the Christmas Story while he was trying to find something to put in the Christmas Eve issue of his newspaper. The music was composed by Henry Smart--a blind musician.
2) Civics: Discuss political activism. Is there something you should be doing in your community to help right a social wrong? Maybe you need to write letters to your Senators or make phone calls.
3) Vocabulary: (Our goal is to come to a greater appreciation of Christmas through this beautiful music. Identify and define unfamiliar words.) sage, natal star
4) Comprehension: What group is each of the 5 stanzas about? Try to find scripture verses to apply to each stanza.
5) Activity: Decide how you can spend your holiday season in "worship" and/or select one of your family favorite activities to do today. (The ones you listed on the first day)
6) Scripture verse: Luke 2:9
THOU DIDST LEAVE THY THRONE1) History: Written by Emily E. S. Elliot (1836-1897). This song is a little different from other Christmas songs because it includes not only Christ's birth, but His life on earth, His suffering/death, and the triumph of His 2nd "advent." Emily Elliott wrote this song to teach children the truth of the advent season and the nativity. The song was only meant to be used in her father's church--St. Mark's Anglican Church--in Brighton, England but it didn't take long for it to become a favorite song virtually everywhere. Emily was very active in rescue mission work and the Sunday School movement of the time.
2) English: Note how the message of each verse is portrayed. Talk about the word "but". It is a conjunction and is used to contrast the 2 parts of each sentence.
3) Art: Make some Christmas heart ornaments for your tree to remind yourself that Jesus must live in your heart.
4) Set up your creche (nativity set) Make a special place for it.
5) Science: If you are still doing academics this time of year, spend time studying the heart and circulatory system. Talk about how life is in the blood and show how God designed our hearts as the center of our physical life. Have older children write a comparrison paper showing how God manifests Himself and His plan of salvation in the physical heart.
6) Scripture verse: John 10:10
SILENT NIGHT1) History: This great text written by Joseph Mohr (1792-1848) on Christmas Eve 1818, was borne out of a great need. Joseph Mohr was the pastor of a little Austrian parish church. On a cold December 24th, he was dismayed to learn that mice had chewed the bellows of the church organ. Thinking of having a Christmas Eve service without beautiful music was almost more than he could think of. To get his mind off his troubles, he went out on his pastoral calls. During his visits, he was called to a humble cottage to welcome and bless a newborn baby. Uplifited by the new life born on Christmas Eve, Joseph's spirits began to soar. As he walked on for more visits, his mind composed lines to a poem that was inspired by Christ's birth on the same evening so many years ago. He hurried home, wrote down the words, took them to the church organist, and asked him to put the words to music. The poor organist only knew 3 guitar chords but he wrote a simple little melody, none-the-less. Imagine the joy in that little congregation as the 2 men sang, for the very first time, this now beloved carol.
2) Bible: Look up verses about light.
3) Art: Try making candles or rolling beeswax candles.
4) Art: Make Christmas stars to put on your Christmas tree.
5) Science: Review or introduce (depending on where you are with science) the constellations. Talk about how God has revealed His plan of salvation in the stars and in all of creation. Talk about the star of Bethlehem.
6) English: Write a poem that could be used as a carol or a hymn.
AWAY IN A MANGER1) History. This precious Christmas Song--probably one of the first your children ever learned--has an undocumented history. As with many of the favorite carols and hymns, this one was thought to have its origins in Germany. For a long time it was known as "Luther's Cradle Hymn" and was thought to have been written by Martin Luther for his own children. Most historians today, discount that. In 1835, stanzas one and two appeared in the "Little Children's Book" published in Philadelphia. The 3rd stanza was written by Dr. John T. McFarland (1851-1913) when he needed an extra stanza for this carol to be used in a children's day program at his church.
2) Activity: Make "manger cookies". Recipe: you will need chow mein noodles, butterscotch chips and pink (or another color) jelly beans. Melt the butterscotch chips in the microwave or on top of a double-boiler, remove from heat, stir in chow mein noodles until well-covered. Scoop out piles with a spoon and shape them to look like little hay beds. Put a jelly bean in to represent the baby Jesus.
3) Bible: Read the Christmas story from Luke 2
4) Make or wrap some Christmas gifts.
5) English: Write letters to a missionary family.
6) Discuss and/or select activities that will really pull your children beyond the Santa Claus syndrome and all the glitter of the secular celebration. Teach them to see Jesus as the greatest gift ever given.
JOY TO THE WORLD1) History: This incredible hymn by Isaac Watts is only one of the many thousands of hymns and songs written by Isaac Watts. His start in hymn/song writing came about as a challenge made by his father in an attempt to stifle Isaac's teen-age complaining. What was this 15 year old boy complaining about? He was complaining about the poor quality of hymns that were sung in his church! He took on his father's challenge and his hymns were an instant success. Sunday after Sunday Isaac wrote and presented new hymns to the congregation. He was a preacher-poet and incredibly well-loved by his congregation. At the age of 38, his declining health required him to leave the pastorate. He went for a "short" visit to stay with friends and left 38 years later!. During that time, he devoted himself to writing hymns based on David's Psalms. "Joy to the World" came about as he meditated on Psalm 98.
2) Music: Browse through a hymnal and see what other songs were written by Isaac Watts.
3) Bible: Psalm 98
4) English: Talk about anagrams. JOY can be an anagram. Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last.
5) Activity: Make a banner, poster, collage, mobile, or some other artistic demonstration of "the wonders of His love."
6) Decide as a family how you can show joy to your world.
COME THOU LONG-EXPECTED JESUS1)History: This is one of about 6500 songs written by Charles Wesley (1707-1788) It was first published in a book entitled "Hymns for the Nativity of our Lord." (1744) The tune known as "Hyfrydol" was composed by a 20 yr. old Welshman named Rowland H. Prichard in about 1830. This tune is used with a lot of hymns.
2) English: Look up the word "anticipation." Ask the children about things they anticipate. Note: it is so important to instill a sense of anticipation in our children and keep anticipation as part of our own lives. It ought to be prevalent in the life of every believer. In the Old Testament, Israel anxiously awaited the coming of the Messiah--just as we should anticipate the Lord's second advent.
3) Bible: Spend time reading some of the Bible Prophecies about the birth of the Christ-child and Christ's ministry on earth.
4) Family activity. Play pass the present. Get a small gift--something generic that anyone would enjoy--and wrap it in a small box. Put that box inside a box and wrap it, continue putting it in a larger box until you have several "layers." Have everyone get in a circle. As you play a tape of Christmas music, pass the box around the circle. When the music stops, the person holding the box has to unwrap as much as they can before you start the music again. When the music starts, the box is passed. This continues with starting and stopping the music until the last box is finally opened and a "winner" is declared. Note: I like to play this game with a small bag of candy or quarters or something like that which can be shared by the winner.
HARK THE HERALD ANGELS SING1) History: It's hard to get away from songs by Charles Wesley because he wrote so many of them! This one, however, has a really interesting history. First, it is important to realize that Christmas carols and hymns as we know them now were abolished by the English Puritan parliament in 1627 as being part of a "worldly festival." The Puritan's considered Christmas to be a secular celebration. (Can you imagine what they would think of it today!) HARK THE HERALD ANGELS SING was one of the few written during the 17th and early 18th centuries. In Wesley's original text, the first line read "Hark! how all the welkin rings, glory to the King of Kings." Welkin is an old English word meaing "vault of heaven". The famous Reverend George Whitfield changed the first line to the one we now sing today. That final change was made in 1753. The music was composed by a Messianic Jew named Felix Mendelssohn. Originally composed in 1840 to celebrate the anniversary of Guttenberg's printing press, it wasn't until 1855 that the tune and Wesley's poem were put together.
2) Discuss: Look at the truths in all the stanzas. What does it mean by "Mild He lay His glory by." How often do we fuss at having to lay things aside. Compare our petty concerns with all Jesus laid aside to be born to die for us. What are you willing to lay aside to bring more glory to Him in your life?
3) Art: Make angel ornaments for your tree.
4) Bible: Starting with the angel that appeared to Mary, how many angel "sightings" are there in the Christmas story.
5) Go Christmas caroling.
6) Music: If you haven't done so, now is a good time to talk about song writers and composers. Almost all of the songs in this unit began as poems to honor God or the Christ Child. The music (the tune) was actually composed by someone else at a different period in time. The songwriter and composer often did not live in the same time period and if they did, may not have known one another.
7) Activity: If you wrote poems the other day, try setting them to music.
O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM1) History: Written by Phillip Brooks, (1835-1893) This particular song is unique in that it is one of the few "American" Christmas hymns. Phillip Brooks--one of America's most outstanding ministers of the past century--visited the Holy Land in 1865. Brooks went to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. When looking for something new to present to his Philadelphia congregation 3 years later, he recalled his awesome experience in Bethlehem and wrote this song specifically for the children in the congregation.
2) Bible: Read Micah 5:2, (Prophecy) Luke 2:4(fulfillment)
3) Art: Make a Christmas banner out of felt. Show the sleepy town of Bethlehem, the manger the star. Strive for a sense of "quietness".
4) Architecture: Look at some pictures of Bethlehem and the holy land.
WHILE SHEPHERDS WATCHED THEIR FLOCKS BY NIGHT1) History: Written by Nahum Tate (1652-1715) Note: The history of this song writer does not end on an upbeat note. Please preview this information for appropriateness. Nahum Tate was the son of an Irish clergyman. He got his education at Trinity college in Dublin and was appointed Poet Laureate of England during the reign of William and Mary. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that his heart was really into the the truth's behind this carol because Nahum lived his life as a drunkard and a spendthrift. He died at the age of 63 in a debtor's refuge in London. The popularity of this carol is probably do more to the tuneful melody which was adapted from a work by Handel.
2) Bible: Read the account of the angel's appearance to the shepherds.
3) English: Have children write (or dictate to you) a first person story pretending they were a shepherd sitting on the ground when the angels appeared. Strive to get them to be descriptive and tell what they thought and how they felt when the angels came.
Expansion: Act out the story as a skit.
4) Art: Make sheep ornaments for your Christmas Tree.
5) Talk about Candy Canes (shepherd's staffs) The symbolism of the Red and white (some have green, red, and white) Hang them on your tree. Try to locate "The legend of the Candy Cane" to read to your children.
IT CAME UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR1) History: This is a wonderful Christmas hymn to which America can proudly lay claim. Written by Edmund H. Sears (1810-1876) Sears was a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and spent most of his life pastoring small churches in the East.
2) English: What is the theme of this song? (Peace). This is one of the few Christmas songs about the gift of Peace God gave on that first Christmas. It is a message of reconciliation that involves Peace with God, Peace with our fellowman, and Peace with ourselves. Look up Peace and Reconciliation. Write the definitions.
3) Discuss: Why did/does God need to reconcile the world unto Himself? Why do we need Peace?
4) Social Studies: Locate areas of the world that are in turmoil with wars or civil unrest. Why are they like that? What is the reason for the conflict? What needs to happen for the conflicts to be resolved?
5) Art: Decide on a good symbol for peace and put and make ornaments to remind you that God's peace is a Christmas gift from Him.
6) Activity: Practice having a "peaceful" home.
7) Bible: Why does God say "Blessed is the peacemaker? And what is the Blessing he bestows on peacemakers? (The Beatitudes)
THE FIRST NOELNote: This is an old English Carol written before 1823 and there is almost nothing known about its origin. However, in situations like this, it is fun to learn the many ideas and legends that get attached to the song. We--especially Americans, I think--seem to have this need to be able to explain things to our satisfaction when, in reality, the truth just can't be certain. I offer 2 seperate histories of this song. You should let your children compare them. Maybe take a vote on which one seems more reasonable.
1) History #1: It is actually believed that this song had its rise in France in the 15th Century. "Noel" is a French word from the Latin meaning "Birthday". It is thought that wondering troubadours took the song across the Channel to England. Under the English form "Nowell", the song became a great favorite in the west of England as the village gathered on Christmas Eve to burn the Yule Log. Remember back that at this time Carols were thought to be "popular" music and were sung outside the church--not in. The repetition of "noel" in the refrain is equivalent to our singing our "happy birthday" to someone.
2) History #2: In this history, people claim the Noel also came from the French but stands for "a shout of joy." It is, however, considered an English song. The English had (and still do) a special way with abbreviations. Over the years, a phrase would be reduced to one word, as people began to say it faster. After passing through one generation, the next generation would remember only the shortened version. Such is the case with "Nowell". Tradition says that the English greeted one another on Christmas Morning with the phrase "Now All Is Well". Christ had come into the world. Now all is well. Jesus is born! Over the years as the phrase passed from mouth to mouth, family to family, people began to say "Now Well! Now Well!" This eventually became "Nowell, Nowell."
3) English: Talk about how we shorten words and whether or not its a good thing to do. (dunno, whatcha doin).
4) Activity:Make a Birthday Cake for Jesus and sing the refrain of the song.
5) Make a habit of greeting one another each morning of the advent by saying "Nowell" instead of "good morning."
6) Bible: Let each person share one of the verses they've enjoyed over the past few days.
7) Art/Calligraphy: Take a favorite verse and write it on heavy stock paper--either in neat handwriting, italic, or calligraphy. Decorate it if desired or cut it out and glue it on wrapping paper. You can even wrap a piece of cardboard in Christmas paper and turn the whole thing into a wall hanging or picture.
8) Geography: (for those of you still doing academics) Locate France and England on the map. Also, the English Channel. Talk aobut troubadours. Who and what were they?
I HEARD THE BELLS ON CHRISTMAS DAYHistory: This is another great American song. The poem was written by beloved American Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. (1807-1882). Just looking at the dates in which Longfellow lived, ask your children if they know what American tragedy he lived through. (The Civil War). Longfellow, sadly, was probably not a Christian. He was Unitarian and held to a strong belief in God's goodness and concern for people. This, I'm sure, required strong faith as he watched the cruel miseries caused by the Civil War. Longfellow was the most influential poet of his time so this song brought hope, courage and renewed strength to Americans on both sides of the war. The poem was written in 1864 for the Sunday school of the Unitarian Church of the Desciples in Boston. We usually sing 5 stanzas but if you can find a copy of the original text, you will notice that 2 have been ommitted. Those 2 stanzas contain strong references to the war. The 5 we now sing give us the hopeful message that God is still in control and, in His time, the righteous will triumph and He will bring peace and goodwill again. The bold but beautiful ringing of the Christmas Bells should remind us of that hope.
2) Activity: Make bells for your Christmas tree and/or make cut out bell cookies.
3) Listen for bells in the background of Christmas music.
4) Bible: Look up or discuss favorite verses that give you hope and assurance.
5) During the Civil War, families were seperated, had few funds for gifts or celebrations, and created many new traditions. See if you can find out about any of them.
6) English: Read the opening chapter of LIttle Women by Louisa May Alcott--or watch the video as a family. They were a Civil War family and the opening of the book takes place at Christmas.
WE THREE KINGS1) History: Words and Music by John H. Hopkins (1820-1891) John Hopkins was an Episcopalian minister from Pennsylvania. He wrote many fine tunes and hymns in his lifetime.
2) Bible: Read Matthew 2:11
3) Social Studies: The Epiphany is celebrated on January 6 to commemorate the coming of the wisemen from the East. The 12 days of Christmas begin December 26 and end on the Epiphany. (Hence the secular gift-giving song: The 12 Days of Christmas) As a family, consider starting a "12 Nights" tradition starting on December 26th. One of the things we tried was for each person to open a gift every night between Dec. 26th and Jan. 6.--instead of the traditional Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Another idea is to give gifts to widows, shut-ins or the poor during the 12 Nights.
4) Although there is no scriptural basis for there being only 3 Kings, we've celebrated that because of the 3 gifts they brought. Study the gold, frankincense and myrrh. All of these items are symbolic of Christ's ministry and death. The words of the song teach us why each gift was selected.
5) English: The 3 Kings have a lot to teach modern day Christians. Have older children write a paper showing the lessons that we can learn from the Kings. (they persisted in following the light, they responded in worship, they returned to their home to tell others)
6) Geography. Look at a map and see if you determine a possible route the wisemen took from the Orient to the location where they found Jesus.
7) Make gold crowns to put on your Christmas tree.
CONCLUSIONIt is my heartfelt prayer that these Christmas Hymns and Carols will bless your hearts in a new way this Christmas season. Listen to them, sing them, talk about them and encourage one another with them. For ideas on additional activities, you can go to the Funschooling Archives and find 2 more Christmas units.
For questions, comments, and suggestions, Please e-mail Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org.