Although it is a single work in six related parts, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio could be regarded as a compilation of six separate cantatas. Recognizing the fact that Christmas is not a day, but a twelve-day season, the scheme of the Oratorio appoints Part 1 to be sung on Christmas Day, Part 2 on St. Stephen’s Day (December 26th), Part 3 on St. John’s Day (December 27th), Part 4 on the 1st of January to celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision (coinciding with New Year), Part 5 sung on the first Sunday after New Year, and Part 6 on January 6 for the Feast of Epiphany.
Officially designated Weihnachts-Oratorium, BWV 248, the work includes many choruses, chorales, arias, and recitatives that were lifted from previously composed cantatas and “re-purposed” with new texts. Bach scholar Michael Marissen has performed a great service by assembling all of the Oratorio’s libretto into a single volume with parallel German-English text and extensive annotations explaining the biblical and theological references in the text (Bach’s Oratorios, Oxford University Press, 2008).
The first Part of Weihnachts-Oratorium is for Christmas Day. The text can be found here. Below is a recording of a concert performance featuring the Choir and Orchestra of the J. S. Bach Foundation, conducted by Rudolf Lutz, with soloists Elvira Bill (alto), Daniel Johannsen (tenor), and Stephan MacLeod (bass).