The story of this beloved Christmas carol has been told many times. Just before Christmas in 1818, in the small village of Oberndorf, Austria, it was discovered the church’s organ was broken. Music was an essential part of the Christmas Eve service, and since it would be impossible to have the organ repaired in time, it seemed that the service would be ruined.
Minister Joseph Mohr decided to write a new hymn for the service, even though there would be no organ. He quickly wrote the words and asked organist Franz Gruber to write a tune for his words. When Gruber read over the words, he said, “God be praised!” The two had often discussed that the perfect Christmas hymn had never been written. That night, they both thought it had been.
The simple, beautiful tune was written in time for the Christmas Eve service. Mohr and Gruber sang it as a duet that evening. Gruber played a simple guitar accompaniment, and the choir repeated the last two lines. Music for that Christmas Eve service would be a blessing for generations to come.
“Silent Night! Holy Night!” could have remained unknown to folks outside the tiny village in the Austrian Alps. Still, when Gruber played the organ to see if the repairman’s work was satisfactory, he played the new Christmas carol. The repairman, Karl Mauracher, was so moved that he asked for a copy, and the carol was spread throughout the region as a “Tyrolian Folk Song.”
As the years passed, many singing groups shared the song as they toured Europe. In 1848, it finally appeared in a German hymnal published in Berlin. For some time, the music was attributed to other composers, including Mozart and Haydn, but in 1854, Gruber sent a letter to the publisher establishing the correct origin of the carol.
“Silent Night! Holy Night!” was brought to America by German immigrants and was first published in English in 1863, appearing in The Sunday-School Service and Tune Book. The translator wasn’t known for over 100 years until 1957 when research revealed it was John F. Young, an energetic minister who’d had a strong interest in sacred music and had served in the South at the time of Reconstruction after the Civil War. He also had done mission work among the Cubans in Florida and in Cuba.
“Silent Night! Holy Night!” offers quiet relief from the noise and clamor of the Christmas season. It beautifully encourages one to reflect on the humble scenes surrounding Jesus’ birth. But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth (Philippians 2:7-10). The song that began under humble circumstances is a favorite of so many as they reflect on that “Silent Night! Holy Night!” miracle.
All is calm, all is bright,
Round yon virgin mother and child!
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Shepherds quake at the sight!
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heav'nly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Saviour is born,
Christ the Saviour is born!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Rad’ant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth!
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