The lyrics were written by William Chatterton Dix, in 1865. At the time of composing the carol, Dix worked as an insurance company manager and had been struck by a severe illness. While recovering, he underwent a spiritual renewal that led him to write several hymns. The words of this carol are sung to the old English tune "Greensleeves". The lively tune has been popular since the time of Elizabeth I; "Christmas comes but once a year" is also sung to this air. Shakespeare mentions it twice in "The Merry Wives of Windsor". Sir John Stainer arranged this version.