“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” is a Christmas carol describing the Annunciation to the Shepherds, with words attributed to Irish hymnist, lyricist and England’s Poet Laureate Nahum Tate.
The exact date of Tate’s composition is not known, but the words appeared in Tate and Nicholas Brady’s 1700 supplement to their New Version of the Psalms of David of 1696. It was the only Christmas hymn authorised to be sung by the Anglican Church; before 1700 only the Psalms of David were permitted to be sung. It is written in common metre and based on the Gospel of Luke 2:8-14.
It is the only one of the sixteen works in the 1700 supplement to still be sung today. It was published by Davies Gilbert (London, 1822), and William B. Sandys (London, 1833). The carol is most commonly sung to two different tunes: Winchester Old in the United Kingdom and a variation on a Handel aria arranged by Lowell Mason in the United States.
The southern version: