Many years ago, shepherds tending their flocks in the wintry hills of southern France had a custom of calling to one another on Christmas Eve, each from his own peak, singing “Gloria in excelsis Deo, gloria in excelsis Deo,” just as the angels might have first announced the birth of Christ. The traditional tune the shepherds used, probably from a late medieval Latin chorale, is the refrain of “Angels We Have Heard on High.” The music for the verse — probably from the 18th century — comes from a different source (a popular tune of the time), as does the text itself, a translation of the old French carol “Les Anges dans Nos Campagnes.” They were first published together in a carol collection dated 1855.
Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.
Glo—-ria in excelsis Deo,
Glo—-ria in excelsis Deo.
Shepherd, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
Which inspire your heav’nly song?
Come to Bethlehem and see
Him whose birth the angels sing.
Come adore on bended knee
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.