What Was the First Christmas Song Ever?

The first-ever Christmas song was Jesus Refulsit Omnium. Bishop of Poitiers, St. Hilary of Poitiers wrote the first-ever Christmas song back in 4th century.

What comes to your mind when you hear the words “the first Christmas song ever”? We bet it’s “Last Christmas” by English pop duo Wham!. Or is it perhaps “Mariah Carey – “All I Want For Christmas Is You“?

However, neither of these were the first Christmas song ever. The same as bringing a Christmas tree in for Christmas, Christmas songs have a history that dates back to more than a thousand years.

Christmas choir singing in church for Christmas season.
Choir singing carols in a cathedral for Christmas.
By Bengt Nyman from Vaxholm, Sweden – DSC_2693, CC BY 2.0.

Nonetheless, the most famous Christmas carols and songs are of relatively recent date – “Silent Night,” for instance, was written not so long ago, in 1818.

“Jingle Bells” was published in 1857 under the name “One Horse Open Sleigh.” But what are the oldest Christmas songs? Do you know what is the first Christmas song ever?

The Oldest Christmas Songs Ever to Date

The Catholic Church officially recognized December 25th as Christmas in 336. At that time, the first-ever Christians celebrated the feast by singing Christmas hymns, not songs.

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The Christmas hymns are more solemn, religious songs, while Christmas songs are worldly, although today they share the same meaning.

Choir singing christmas songs in a museum.
A Christmas choir singing songs in a museum.
By John Cummings – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

People typically never used Christmas music in religious services until the 12th century, when St. Francis of Assisi started addressing commoners in their own language through his songs.

Even then, most religious leaders banned so-called inappropriate music, and people had to sing them outside of the church. We know them as Christmas carols.

Why is all of this important? The oldest-known Christmas songs are religious.

Top 3 Most Known Oldest Christmas Songs and Carols Ever

We have compiled a list of top historical Christmas songs and carols, so you can enjoy your Christmas holidays.

1. “Entre le bœuf et l’âne gris” (“Between the Ox and the Grey Donkey”)

One of the oldest Christmas songs comes from France. It originated between the 13th and 16th centuries.

The lyrics are about the nativity scene, which probably comes from the Book of Isiah. 

Surprisingly, people still sing the first-ever Christmas song today even though it is one of the oldest French Christmas songs. 

Lyrics for “Entre le bœuf et l’âne gris” (“Between the Ox and the Grey Donkey” can be found here.

2. “The Friendly Beasts” – first Christmas Song Ever

Another first-ever Christmas carol that an unknown artist created is “The Friendly Beasts.” This Christmas song originates from France around the 12th century.

However, Robert Davis wrote the English version in the 1920s. The song tells the story of animals present at Jesus’ birth and the gifts they bring to him.

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Today, people sing the lyrics to the melody of “Orientis Partibus,” a Latin song. Also, many famous singers covered it, such as Johnny Cash, Harry Belafonte, and Sufjan Stevens.

Lyrics for “The Friendly Beasts”, an old English Christmas carol can be found here.

3. “Corde Natus ex Parentis” (“Of the Father’s Love Begotten”)

One more piece of Christmas music comes from the 4th century. It was written by Aurelius Prudentius Clemens, a Roman Christian poet in present-day Northern Spain.

Unlike the two mentioned Christmas carols, “Corde Natus ex Parentis” lost its popularity. People sing it only in some churches.

If you are looking for lyrics of “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”, here they are.

The First Christmas Song Ever: “Jesus Refulsit Omnium”

The First Christmas song ever is considered to be “Jesus Refulsit Omnium“, written in the 4th century by the Bishop of Poitiers, St. Hilary of Poitiers.

There was no sheet music, so we can only speculate how the song really sounded. 

What Was the First Christmas song Ever in Europe?

It was “Jesus Refulsit Omnium”, which means “Jesus Illuminates All”. The song dates back to first-ever Christmas celebration in the 4th century.

European nations began to receive their first-ever Christmas songs from around the 15th century – the English started their Christmas song tradition in 1410, and shortly before the first-ever Italian Christmas song was composed by multiple Italian authors.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958), a British composer
By uncredited press photographer – eBay, Public Domain.

What Do You Do During Christmas?

Most people listen to Christmas songs or watch Christmas movies from the beginning of November. How do you like to spend pre-Christmas time? 

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Be it by listening to first-ever Christmas music or playing Christmas cards; we wish you a very Merry Christmas!

If you want to know more about music history, make sure to read about the first rapper ever.