Four Favourite Christmas Poems


      Welcome to Our World

The poetic lyrics of a plaintive song written by contemporary songwriter Chris Rice are striking for their sense of yearning and the idea of welcoming God into our reality. There’s the strong visual dimension, Ignatian in character, of seeing the enfant’s finger (which will later heal people) and his baby brow (which will one day be crowned with thorns), and even the imagined heart that is already pumping the blood that will later pour eucharistically from his side. The paschal mystery is present in Bethlehem. It is all part of the great outpouring of God’s very self, his masterplan, and it’s wrapped in the paradox of a fragile child on Christmas Day.

Welcome to Our World

Tears are falling, hearts are breaking
How we need to hear from God
You’ve been promised, we’ve been waiting
Welcome Holy Child
Welcome Holy Child

Hope that you don’t mind our manger
How I wish we would have known
But long-awaited Holy Stranger
Make Yourself at home
Please make Yourself at home.

Bring Your peace into our violence
Bid our hungry souls be filled
Word now breaking Heaven’s silence
Welcome to our world
Welcome to our world

Fragile finger sent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us
Unto us is born
Unto us is born

So wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy

Perfect Son of God.
Perfect Son of God.
Welcome to our world.

– Chris Rice. “Welcome to Our World” can be heard here. []

2.       The Maid-Servant At The Inn

This poem by Dorothy Parker is from the perspective of a middle-aged servant woman, recalling a family that came through her place of employment decades before. It’s poignant when one realizes what must be happening at the time of the maid’s reminiscence, more than “thirty years” since the Bethlehem encounter. Once again, it’s a subtle nod to the paschal mystery, the larger story that the small, almost ordinary incident was a part of.

The Maid-Servant At The Inn

“It’s queer,” she said; “I see the light
As plain as I beheld it then,
All silver-like and calm and bright-
We’ve not had stars like that again!

“And she was such a gentle thing
To birth a baby in the cold.
The barn was dark and frightening-
This new one’s better than the old.

“I mind my eyes were full of tears,
For I was young, and quick distressed,
But she was less than me in years
That held a son against her breast.

“I never saw a sweeter child
-The little one, the darling one!-
I mind I told her, when he smiled
You’d know he was his mother’s son.

“It’s queer that I should see them so-
The time they came to Bethlehem
Was more than thirty years ago;
I’ve prayed that all is well with them.”

– Dorothy Parker

3.       Christmas

I like this poem for its sheer Englishness and festive colour, but the last verse ends with a solid note that grounds the melodiousness of the rest. John Betjeman manages to be light-hearted and religious at the same time, and there’s something Christmassy about that.


The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
‘The church looks nice’ on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says ‘Merry Christmas to you all’.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

– John Betjeman

4.       The Burning Babe

This poem is by the English Jesuit Robert Southwell, S.J. who volunteered to go to England to minister to the underground Church, and after six years of missionary work, was arrested and convicted of treason. On Feb. 20, 1595, Southwell was hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, London, the same gallows where his confrere Edmund Campion was executed. There’s more than a little of the mystic’s vision in this verse of his, and it provides a glimpse, perhaps, of the kind of spirituality that drove those generations of Jesuits to places such as Huronia, England, and Japan.

The Burning Babe

As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear;
Who, scorched with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
Alas, quoth he, but newly born in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;
The fuel justice layeth on, and mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiled souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.
With this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas day.

– Robert Southwell, SJ

John O'Brien, SJ is a promoter of vocations for the Canadian Jesuits.

  • Peter Bisson SJ
    Posted at 01:44h, 02 January Reply

    Thank you John!

  • Roy Frank Obrigewitsch
    Posted at 10:37h, 02 January Reply

    A beautiful collection of Christmas poems! Thank you John.

  • Michelle Mahoney
    Posted at 08:49h, 03 January Reply

    Thank you, John. A wonderful collection that I will be able to share. Peace

  • John Meehan SJ
    Posted at 10:53h, 04 January Reply

    Thank you, John, for these beautiful and inspiring poems.

  • Vicki Butterfield
    Posted at 13:30h, 04 January Reply

    This was like getting a Christmas stocking stuffed with rich delights. ALL of these were new to me and all of them were wonderful.

  • Jane Hodgins
    Posted at 09:18h, 05 January Reply

    Robert Southwell SJ’s poem moved me to tears. Thank you, Fr. John, for this thoughtful selection, all pointing to the wonder of the coming of the Christ child amidst our less than joy-filled world. And the difference that it makes.

  • Jane Hodgins
    Posted at 09:22h, 05 January Reply

    John! If my moderated comment is published, could you please change “amongst” to “amidst”? Thanks. And BTW Happy Epiphany!

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