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WASHINGTON COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY     (Washington County, Utah)

FAR, FAR AWAY ON JUDEA'S PLAINS

(a popular Christmas carol written and composed in St. George)

THE MUSIC

Score for Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains

Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains
sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on YouTube
To download the audio as an .mp3 file, click here.

Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains
piano recording on the NetHymnal website


HISTORY

Late 1869 was an unusually difficult time in Dixie. The weather was dreary and food was very scarce. Mormon Apostle Erastus Snow who was in charge of the Dixie Mission wanted to do something special for Christmas.

He called he called two men into his office, Charles Walker, poet laureate of the Cotton Mission, and John Macfarlane, recently called to St. George to be choirmaster. He set them apart to compose a special Christmas song. The two men had been collaborating almost from the day they first met, Walker composing verses and Macfarlane composing or arranging music to go with Walker's work, (eg. Dearest Children, God Is Near You).

The two men worked ferverishly, but Macfarlane just couldn't seem to fit music to Walker's words. Then one night he had a breakthrough at his little home on Tabernacle. He woke up with words and a melody running through his mind. He woke up his wife, Ann, and took her to their little three-octave pump organ. She held a crude lamp and pumped the organ while he worked out the music and words to Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains. They finished by dawn and after breakfast, Macfarlane took the song over to the Walker home to share with Charlie. They both agreed that it was what they were looking for. Macfarlane offered to put Walker's name on it, but Walker refused saying he had contributed nothing to it.

The carol was first performed for an 1869 Christmas program in St. George. It was first published in the Juvenile Instructor of December 15, 1889. It became very popular in the Dixie community and then spreading to the broader Mormon community and beyond.

This carol was added to the official L.D.S. hymn book in 1896, four years after Macfarlane died. It has remained and continued to gain in popularity ever since.


PHOTOS

Cover of The Instructor, December 1961
Magazine cover depicting Macfarlane composing this Christmas carol


REFERENCES

Far, far away in St. George
A chapter by Mary Phoenix in the book, A Dixie Christmas
edited by Lyman Hafen and illustrated by Roland Lee
St. George: Publishers Place [or Tonaquint Press?], December 1, 1988

Far Away in St. George
by Mary Phoenix
Published December 24, 2011 on kcsg.com

Wikipedia entry for Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains

Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains entry on NetHymnal