THE first Christmas carol accepted into Church of England tradition was While Shepherds Watched, according to research.

While carols are seen as being key to the Christian celebration of Christmas, they were originally considered too secular to be sung in services.

In fact, many were not heard in churches until the end of the 18th Century.

But hymnologist Jeremy Dibble has discovered While Shepherds Watched was officially sanctioned decades earlier.

Professor Dibble, a hymnologist at Durham University and musical editor of the forthcoming Dictionary of Hymnology, said: “While Shepherds Watched was the first carol to cross over from secular traditions to the church.

“It was the only Christmas hymn to be approved by the Church of England in the 18th Century and this allowed it to be disseminated across the country with the Book of Common Prayer.

“Only at the end of the 18th Century was it joined by other well-known texts, such as Hark The Herald Angels Sing.”