Behind the Christmas Song: What Child Is This?

What Child is This? was written by William Chatterton Dix in 1865 in England.

William Chatterton Dix

William Chatterton Dix

Dix worked as a manager for an insurance company before being afflicted with a severe illness that left him bedridden and severely depressed.

This near death experience brought about a spiritual renewal in him while he was recovering.

During his recovery he would read the Bible and write hymns.  He also wrote such hymns as As with Gladness Men of Old and  Alleluia! Sing to Jesus.

Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus

Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus

In 1865, he wrote a poem titled “The Manger Throne.”   Reports vary from saying he was reading the Gospel for Epiphany {day we celebrate the Three Kings visit to the Christ Child} to it was actually written during the Christmas season that year.

The lyrics were set to the tune of Greensleeves, a traditional English folk song, that is traditionally believed to have been written by King Henry VIII.  However, historians claim the melody is of an Italian style composition and did not reach England until after the death of King Henry VIII in 1547.

The poem was not published until 1871.  During the process of publication the song was paired with the theme Greensleeves.  However, it’s unknown who actually set the lyrics to that tune.  Many believe it may have been the editor of the hymnal, John Stainer.

Dix died in Somerset, England on September 9, 1898 at the age of sixty-one.

What remains an undisputed fact is that the Christmas Carol has become a huge hit.


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