December 24 – Silent Night

The Christmas carol “Silent Night” is sung at almost every Christmas Eve service.  It has become synonymous with Christmas and is a vital ingredient in any Christmas celebration.  This beautiful song was created almost 200 hundred years ago by two men from a small Alpine town in Austria.  In 1818, a group of touring actors came to the town of Oberndorf to perform their play about Christ’s birth.  After watching the play, the assistant pastor Josef Mohr walked home in a contemplative mood.  He came to the crest of a hill that looked out over the village.  He was captivated by the beauty of the village lying below.  Combined with his thoughts about the Christmas play, it reminded him of a poem that he had written several years before.  He decided that the poem might make a nice carol for his congregation for the Christmas Eve service.  Unfortunately, he did not have any music, so he contacted the church organist.  The organist, Franz Xaver Gruber, had one main problem.  The church organ was not working, so he had to write music that could be sung with the accompaniment of guitar.  On Christmas Eve, the small congregation heard for the very first time “Silent Night.”

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!

The original lyrics to Silent Night (Stille Nact) as written by Josef Mohr

Several weeks later when an organ maker came to fix the organ, Gruber played the tune to test the organ after it was fixed.  The organ maker liked it so much that he asked Gruber for the music, which he took to his village.  Two popular singing families heard the song in this small village and decided to add the song to their Christmas repertoire.  Finally in 1834, the carol was sung for the king of Prussia, who ordered it to be sung every Christmas Eve afterwards.  Still, it was twenty years after it was written that the German carol was first sung in the United States, and it wasn’t until 1863 that the carol was translated into English.  Over time, the simple tune has been reagarranged, but the simple melody penned by Gruber has remained the most well-known melody.  Over the years, these two mens’ simple carol has become a Christmas tradition all over the world.  Now “Silent Night” is sung in over 140 languages.

Sources:

https://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/silent.htm

http://www.stillenacht.at/en/origin_song.asp

http://www.icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/VOLUME02/Silent_Night_History.shtml

http://inmozartsfootsteps.com/836/the-story-of-silent-night-joseph-mohr-and-franz-gruber/

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