Behind the Christmas Song: As with Gladness Men of Old
As with Gladness Men of Old is considered an Epiphany hymn more than a Christmas hymn.
William Chatterton Dix wrote the hymn on January 6, 1859 while recovering from an extended illness. He was bed bound at his home in Glasgow, Scotland and unable to attend that morning’s Epiphany service at church.
While reading the account of the Epiphany or Wise Men in the Gospel of Matthew, he was inspired by the text. He began to write his thoughts throughout the day.
His writings eventually became this hymn. However, he kept it private until the following year. It was then published in Hymns for Public Worship and Private Devotion.
The layman and marine insurance agent was delighted to have his son included in the hymnal.
In 1861, William Henry Monk adapted the tune from a piece written by Conrad Kocher in 1838.
The hymn gained popularity and is often used by the Church of England and in various concerts outside the church.
The Episcopal Church of the United States first published the hymn in the U.S. in 1871.
As with Gladness Men of Old is the only well-known Epiphany hymn or carol about the Biblical magi that avoids referring to them as either “magi” or “kings” and does not state how many there were.
The hymn reminds us not to focus on the value of the gift, but the value of giving and adoration of Jesus Christ.