The tune can be traced back to the 16th century, and the song is a Christmas favorite for many, including me. The words and music fit so well together, and both are easy to sing and remember.

“What Child Is This” is an English carol, the words written by William Chatterton Dix in 1865. Mr. Dix, from Bristol, England, was a businessman in Glasgow, Scotland, working for the Maritime Insurance Company. At 29 years of age, he suffered a near-fatal illness and depression. A subsequent personal spiritual awakening led to a study of the Bible, and he began writing hymns. You might be familiar with “As With Gladness Men of Old” and “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!” which he also wrote.

He set the lyrics of “What Child Is This” to the traditional English folk tune of “Greensleeves,” a song which Shakespeare alluded to in Merry Wives of Windsor.

The song evokes a picture of the Nativity,

of Christ’s humble birth,


the visit of the shepherds


and the wisemen,

and proclaims the purpose of His Incarnation: to bring salvation.

He is Christ the King, the King of Kings.

The song was first published in 1871.

1.What Child is this, who, laid to rest, On Mary’s lap is sleeping?

Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, While shepherds watch are keeping?

2. Why lies He in such mean estate, Where ox and ass are feeding?

Good Christian, fear; for sinners here The silent Word is pleading.

3. So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh, Come peasant, king, to own Him;

The King of kings salvation brings, Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Refrain: This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:

This , this is Christ the King, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

(information found at ;  images from

  author Beth E. Westcott