Deciphering Christmas Carols

by Jonathan Bailey

Every Christmas season I love singing the grand old Christmas carols. But there are always these strange lyrics that I don’t know how to pronounce or I just don’t know the meaning of the word. Usually in church or in the car I just keep singing confidentially as if I knew the word and the definition, when in fact I have no idea.

So, this leads me to begin to decipher some of the strange phrases and lyrics of the Christmas Carols. Because once you understand them it makes the song that much greater, plus you don’t have to freak out when you come to a word or phrase that you don’t know. My first Christmas Carol to decipher is, ‘O Holy Night.’

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining, 

It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth. 

Long lay the world in sin and error pining.

This one phrase “error pining” has always been a mystery to me. In fact I never knew the word “error” was being sung, I just mumbled so similar sounding nonsense and kept right on singing. The one word that we need to define is “pining” because it’s not used in our 21st Century vocabulary.

Pining: to have a desire or longing for something.

So maybe we could translate the the lyric like this, “Long lay the world in sin and selfishness and loving it.” We all loved our sin and rolled around in it like a pig in slop, until Jesus the Messiah came and showed us a better way. He showed us the light of Life! 

The next verse is great, “Till He appeared and the Soul felt its worth.” I love it, but I am not exactly sure what that means. Any ideas on what this verse means? I looked for commentary online but didn’t find anything. I would love to hear your thoughts!

Merry Christmas,