Behind the Christmas Song: We Three Kings

In honor of Epiphany, which we just celebrated, I thought We Three Kings would be a great song to take a closer look at.

John Henry Hopkins Jr

John Henry Hopkins Jr

We Three Kings describes the journey of the Wise Men to see the baby Jesus.   The names of the kings, passed down through tradition are Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar.  The kings presented the Christ Child with three gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh.  For this reason it is believed there were three Wise Men or kings of Orient to journey to see the Christ Child.

The song “We Three Kings of Orient Are” is a Christmas Carol written in 1857 by John Henry Hopkins, Jr.

The Wise Men followed the star

The Wise Men followed the star

His original composition consisted of five verses.  The first verse and last verse were written for the three kings to sing together.  The remaining verses were written as a solo for each king bearing their gift.

Hopkins was serving as rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.  Before joining the clergy, Hopkins had worked as both a journalists, lawyer and music teacher.

Hopkins wrote “We Three Kings” for a Christmas pageant held at the General Theological

The Wise Men with the baby Jesus

The Wise Men with the baby Jesus

Seminary, in New York City, where he taught music.

Hopkins wrote both the lyrics and music to “We Three Kings” which was very uncommon for hymn writers of the day.

The song grew in popularity among Hopkins circle of family and friends and he published the carol in 1862 in his songbook Carols, Hymns, and Songs.

We Three Kings” was the first Christmas carol that originated from the United States to achieve widespread popularity.

In 1928, the song was published in the Oxford Book of Carols and praised as being “one of the most successful of modern composed carols.”

How do you remember the three Magi that traveled to see the Christ Child?


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