The Story of... 'A Spaceman Came Travelling' by Chris de Burgh

15 December 2018, 14:37

Chris De Burgh
Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

"Peace and goodwill to all men, and love for the child..."

It might not be as iconic as 'Fairytale of New York' or 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday', and you might not even know it by name, but you'll no doubt know (and love) this festive track's soaring chorus.

But what is this intriguing song all about and how did it become a Christmas favourite? Here's all the big facts:

  1. Who wrote 'A Spaceman Came Travelling'?

    Chris de Burgh wrote this song for his second album Spanish Train and Other Stories, released in 1975.

    The British-Irish singer would not achieve any mainstream success in the UK until 'The Lady in Red' over 10 years later.

  2. 'A Spaceman Came Travelling' meaning: What is the song about?

    De Burgh had just signed his first recording contract with A&M Records, and was broke and "staying at a friend's flat" when he read Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Däniken.

    The book made him ponder, "what if the star of Bethlehem was a space craft and what if there is a benevolent being or entity in the universe keeping an eye on the world and our foolish things that we do to each other?".

    Already a fan of Irish poet William Butler Yeats, whose work 'The Second Coming' states that every two years or so there would be a major cataclysmic event, de Burgh saw the birth of Christ as "such an event and then 2,000 years later there would be a similar" one.

    He imagined "the nativity scene, the thing hovering over and I could see the shepherds in the fields and this weird, ethereal music was drifting into the air and they were 'what the heck is that'?"

  3. How did it perform in the charts?

    The song was not a success in the UK and failed to chart entirely. However, it topped the charts in Ireland in 1976.

    In 1986, following his huge success with 'The Lady in Red', a reissue reached number 15 in Ireland and number 40 in the UK.

    He said: "I had no ideas about trying to write a hit record". Despite it never reaching higher than 40 in the UK, it has since grown to become a Christmas classic thanks to its use in various festive compilations.

    He added that it's been "much better to have a regular recurring song than a hit for three weeks."

  4. 'A Spaceman Came Travelling' cover versions: Who else has recorded it?

    A handful of artists have covered the song, including rock band Smokie and Irish vocal group Celtic Woman.

    In 2018, Irish producer John Gibbons released an electronic dance version with singer Nina Nesbitt on vocals.

  5. 'A Spaceman Came Travelling' lyrics

    A spaceman came travelling on his ship from afar,
    'Twas light years of time since his mission did start,
    And over a village he halted his craft,
    And it hung in the sky like a star, just like a star

    He followed a light and came down to a shed,
    Where a mother and child were lying there on a bed,
    A bright light of silver shone round his head,
    And he had the face of an angel, and they were afraid

    Then the stranger spoke, he said "Do not fear,
    I come from a planet a long way from here,
    And I bring a message for mankind to hear, "
    And suddenly the sweetest music filled the air

    And it went La La
    Peace and goodwill to all men, and love for the child

    This lovely music went trembling through the ground,
    And many were wakened on hearing that sound,
    And travellers on the road, the village they found,
    By the light of that ship in the sky, which shone all round

    And just before dawn at the paling of the sky,
    The stranger returned and said "Now I must fly,
    When two thousand years of your time has gone by,
    This song will begin once again, to a baby's cry"

    And it went La La This song will begin once again
    To a baby's cry

    And it goes La La Peace and goodwill to all men, and
    Love for the child

    Oh the whole world is waiting, waiting to hear the song again,
    There are thousands standing on the edge of the world,
    And a star is moving somewhere, the time is nearly here,
    This song will begin once again, to a baby's cry