Like many of the Carols of Comfort & Joy we’ve explored this Advent, “Go Tell it on the Mountain” is a Christmas AND an Easter song.
This song likely dates back to the pre-Civil War era and finds its roots in African-American spirituals as part of oral tradition. The lyrics reference the Gospel of Luke’s Nativity narrative, telling the story of the shepherds who, while watching their sheep, received the announcement of the birth of Christ:
“Down in a lowly manger,
the humble Christ was born.
And God sent us salvation,
that blessed Christmas morn.”
The chorus tells the shepherds to “go tell it on the mountain / over the hills and everywhere / that Jesus Christ is born” – and, having traveled some of those hills, I can tell you it’s no easy feat.
The song’s lyrics were published in 1901 by John Wesley Work Jr., the first to prioritize collecting African American traditions and songs, and published in a collection called “New Jubilee Songs”, sung by the a cappella Fisk Jubilee Singers. “Go Tell it on the Mountain” can be an Easter song or a Christmas song: all you need to do is change the last line of the chorus from “that Jesus lives again” (or “that Jesus Christ is Lord” in the end chorus) to “that Jesus Christ is born!”
So, be sure to tell it on the mountain – in your office, on the train, to your family everywhere! – that we are in a season of joy, and Christ is our reason.
Listen to the Embers Academy Choir sing “Go Tell it on the Mountain” below: