The lyrics of What Child is This? were written in 1865 by Englishman William Chatterton Dix, who lived from 1837 to 1898. Unlike many of the writers of Christmas carols, Dix’s career was not centered around the church, and he was not a preacher or minister -- by profession, he was the manager of a marine insurance company, and he spent his spare time writing poetry. He chose to set his poem to the song Greensleeves, which was composed anonymously during the Elizabethan era, or perhaps even earlier than that.
This version of What Child is This? is in the key of E minor. Along with God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen, it is one of the few Christmas carols that is in a minor key. Unlike the aforementioned carol, it is very somber in tone.
Note that in measures 18 and 26, there is a C sharp in the melody. Some versions of the carol have a C natural instead. Since the song was written approximately 500 years ago, and we don’t know who composed the melody, it is hard to say which note is correct. However, in this case I have chosen C sharp because it sounds a little bit happier than the C natural : ) Merry Christmas!
Select the song image below for a printable PDF of What Child Is This? The site will soon have versions of the carol in several other keys. You can also view and print the lyrics to What Child Is This?
For a countdown to Christmas, visit the How Many Days Until Christmas page. The Two Happy Bears are excited about the holiday and are eagerly counting every second!
Tap the image of the sheet music for a full-size PDF of What Child Is This?