1. Prologue: Nowell! Nowell! Nowell!
Hodie Christus natus est: hodie salvator apparuit:
Hodie in terra canunt angeli, laetantur archangeli:
Hodie exultant justi, dicentes: gloria in excelsis Deo: Alleluia.
English translation:
Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!
Today Christ is born: Today the Saviour appeared:
Today on Earth the Angels sing, Archangels rejoice:
Today the righteous rejoice, saying: Glory to God in the highest: Alleluia.
The setting of the text is direct and uncomplicated, apart from the varied settings of the final "
Alleluia", yet it includes many rhythmic irregularities.

From the Vespers for Christmas Day
A lively, syncopated chorus, heralded by a brass fanfare. The composer joked that if he had known he was going to conduct it, he would have made the rhythms easier!

2. Narration: Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise… – From Matthew I, 18-21 and Luke I, 32
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was in this wise: when as his mother
Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was
found with child of the Holy Ghost.
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, was minded to put her
away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the
angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream.
"Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife:
for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she
shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS."

Sung first by the girl sopranos, then by the tenor representing the angel. The full impact of his message to Joseph is marked by the sudden eruption of fanfares and chorus.

3. Song
From Hymn on the Morning of Christ's Nativity – Milton
While the Heaven-born child,
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
Nature in awe to him
Had doffed her gaudy trim,
With her great Master so to sympathise:
And waving wide her myrtle wand,
She strikes a universal peace through sea and land.
No war or battle's sound
Was heard the world around,
The idle spear and shield were high up hung;
The hooked chariot stood
Unstained with hostile blood,
The trumpet spake not to the armed throng,
And Kings sate still with aweful eye,
As if they surely knew their sovran Lord was by.
But peaceful was the night
Wherein the Prince of light
His reign of peace upon the earth began:
The winds, with wonder whist,
Smoothly the waters kissed,
Whispering new joys to the mild ocean,
Who now hath quite forgot to rave,
While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmèd wave.

The gentleness of Milton's words is matched by a pastoral soprano solo, later enhanced by ladies' voices.

4. Narration: And it came to pass… – From Luke II, 1-7
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from
Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be
taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up into the
city of David, which is called Bethlehem; to be taxed with Mary his
espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished
that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son,
and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because
there was no room for them in the inn.

5. Choral
: The blessed son of God only – Miles Coverdale, after Martin Luther
The blessed son of God only
In a crib full poor did lie;
With our poor flesh and our poor blood
Was clothed that everlasting good.
Kyrie eleison
The Lord Christ Jesu, God's son dear,
Was a guest and a stranger here;
Us for to bring from misery,
That we might live eternally.
Kyrie eleison.
All this did he for us freely,
For to declare his great mercy;
All Christendom be merry therefore,
And give him thanks for evermore.
Kyrie eleison.

An unaccompanied hymn, perhaps called Choral because its words are a translation of one of Luther's chorales in Bach's Christmas Oratorio.

6. Narration
: And there were in the same country shepherds… – Adapted from Luke II, 8-17 and the Book of Common Prayer
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field,
keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of
the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round
about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto
them:
"Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,
which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in
the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this
shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in
swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the
heavenly host praising God, and saying:
"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will
toward men. We praise thee, we bless thee, we worship thee, we
glorify thee, we give thee thanks for thy great glory, O Lord
God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty."
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them
into heaven, the shepherds said one to another,
"Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which
is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us."
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the
babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made
known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were
told them by the shepherds.

7. Song: The Oxen – Thomas Hardy
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel,
In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

The baritone solo is permeated by a 'kneeling' motif in the orchestra.

8. Narration: And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God… – From Luke II, 20
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God
for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was
told unto them.
"Glory to God in the highest."

9. Pastoral: The shepherds sing; and shall I silent be? – George Herbert
The shepherds sing; and shall I silent be?
My God, no hymn for Thee?
My soul's a shepherd too; a flock it feeds
Of thoughts, and words, and deeds.
The pasture is Thy word: the streams, Thy grace
Enriching all the place.
Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers
Outsing the daylight hours.
Then will we chide the sun for letting night
Take up his place and right:
We sing one common Lord; wherefore he should
Himself the candle hold.
I will go searching, till I find a sun
Shall stay, till we have done;
A willing shiner, that shall shine as gladly,
As frost-nipped suns look sadly.
Then will we sing, and shine all our own day,
And one another pay:
His beams shall cheer my breast, and both so twine,
Till ev'n His beams sing, and my music shine.

The baritone solo makes explicit reference to the shepherds, whose song we join in our hearts.

10. Narration
: But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. – From Luke I, 19
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her own heart.


11. Lullaby: Sweet was the song the Virgin sang – Anonymous text
Sweet was the song the Virgin sang,
When she to Bethlem Juda came
And was delivered of a Son,
That blessed Jesus hath to name:
"Lulla, lulla, lulla-bye,
Sweet Babe," sang she,
And rocked him sweetly on her knee.
"Sweet Babe," sang she, "my son,
And eke a Saviour born,
Who hath vouchsafèd from on high
To visit us that were forlorn:
"Lalula, lalula, lalula-bye,
Sweet Babe," sang she,
And rocked him sweetly on her knee.

The soprano soloist is joined by the ladies' voices.

12. Hymn: Bright portals of the sky – William Drummond
Bright portals of the sky,
Emboss'd with sparkling stars,
Doors of eternity,
With diamantine bars,
Your arras rich uphold,
Loose all your bolts and springs,
Ope wide your leaves of gold,
That in your roofs may come the King of Kings.
O well-spring of this All!
Thy Father's image vive;
Word, that from nought did call
What is, doth reason, live;
The soul's eternal food,
Earth's joy, delight of heaven;
All truth, love, beauty, good:
To thee, to thee be praises ever given!
O glory of the heaven!
O sole delight of earth!
To thee all power be given,
God's uncreated birth!
Of mankind lover true,
Indearer of his wrong,
Who doth the world renew,
Still be thou our salvation and our song!
The movement is brilliantly scored for full orchestra, and opens with a bright brass fanfare.

An extensive tenor solo with a large climax.

13. Narration
: Now when Jesus was born, behold, there came wise men… – from Matthew II, 1, 2 and 11
Now when Jesus was born, behold there came wise men from the east,
saying, "Where is he that is born King? for we have seen his star in
the east, and are come to worship him." And they said unto them,
"In Bethlehem." When they had heard that, they departed; and, lo,
the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came
and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star,
they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into
the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell
down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures,
they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
The voice of the kings is provided by the men of the chorus.


14. The March of the Three Kings –
Ursula Vaughan Williams
From kingdoms of wisdom secret and far
come Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar;
they ride through time, they ride through night
led by the star's foretelling light.
Crowning the skies
the star of morning, star of dayspring calls,
lighting the stable and the broken walls
where the prince lies.
Gold from the veins of earth he brings,
red gold to crown the King of Kings.
Power and glory here behold
shut in a talisman of gold.
Frankincense from those dark hands
was gathered in eastern, sunrise lands,
incense to burn both night and day
to bear the prayers a priest will say.
Myrrh is a bitter gift for the dead.
Birth but begins the path you tread;
your way is short, your days foretold
by myrrh, and frankincense and gold.
Return to kingdoms secret and far,
Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar,
ride through the desert, retrace the night
leaving the star's imperial light.
Crowning the skies
the star of morning, star of dayspring, calls:
clear on the hilltop its sharp radiance falls
lighting the stable and the broken walls
where the prince lies.


The movement develops to involve all the singers and, especially, the orchestra.

15. Choral: No sad thought his soul affright – Anon and Ursula Vaughan Williams
No sad thought his soul affright,
Sleep it is that maketh night;
Let no murmur nor rude wind
To his slumbers prove unkind:
But a quire of angels make
His dreams of heaven, and let him wake
To as many joys as can
In this world befall a man.
Promise fills the sky with light,
Stars and angels dance in flight;
Joy of heaven shall now unbind
Chains of evil from mankind,
Love and joy their power shall break,
And for a new born prince’s sake;
Never since the world began
Such a light such dark did span.

A reflective hymn, in the manner of the chorales in Bach's Christmas Oratorio.

16. Epilogue
: In the beginning was the Word – Adapted from John I, 1-14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. In him was life; and the life was the
light of men. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among
us, full of grace and truth. Emmanuel, God with us.
The chorus joins in on the final words, and the remainder of the work is scored for full chorus and orchestra, with soloists. It again sets Milton's words, slightly adapted, from "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity":
Ring out, ye crystal spheres,
Once bless our human ears,
If ye have power to touch our senses so;
And let your silver chime
Move in melodious time,
And let the bass of heaven's deep organ blow;
And with your ninefold harmony
Make up full consort to the angelic symphony.
Such music (as 'tis said)
Before was never made,
But when of old the sons of the morning sung,
While the Creator great
His constellations set,
And the well-balanced world on hinges hung,
And cast the dark foundations deep,
And bid the weltering waves their oozy channel keep.
Yea, truth and justice then
Will down return to men,
Orbed in a rainbow; and, like glories wearing,
Mercy will sit between,
Throned in celestial sheen,
With radiant feet the tissued clouds down steering;
And heaven, as at some festival,
Will open wide the gates of her high palace hall.

The closing movement brings together many motifs and does so triumphantly. Ring out, ye Crystal Spheres is from Milton's Hymn on the Morning of Christ's Nativity.