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  title to the story of the Christmas carol Silent Night, Holy Night  
Jubilee"s postcard, 1918

The Christmas carol we know as "Silent Night! Holy Night!" ("Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!" in the original German language) was sang for the first time in the year 1818, during the Midnight Mass in Oberdorf, Austria.

On that Christmas Eve, as the voices of Joseph Mohr, the assistant pastor, and Franz Gruber, the musician-schoolteacher, echoed through the village church, a song was born that would become a song heard around the world. It was translated in hundreds of languages and is sung by millions of people, both at little villages or at big cathedral, every year in December.

In our age of tabloid journalism, it’s not surprising that some feel it necessary to invent frivolous anecdotes and create fables for a story whose beauty lies in its simplicity. And so, today books, films and internet are filled with unrealistic stories supposedly telling the history of "Silent Night". Some speculate that the organ would not work; others feel that Joseph Mohr, who was clearly a lover of guitar music, simply wanted a new carol for Christmas. The truth is that we don’t know why he wanted a new Christmas carol; we have no idea if any particular event inspired him to write his poetical version of the birth of Baby Jesus.

The original German words of the carol were written by Joseph Mohr in 1816 when he was still a young priest assigned to a church in Mariapfarr, Austria. His grandfather lived nearby, and it is easy to imagine that he could have come up with the words while walking thorough the countryside on a visit to his elderly relative. And the world is rather fortunate that he didn't leave the song behind when he was transferred to Oberndorf the following year (1817).

On December 24, 1818 Joseph Mohr journeyed to the home of the musician-schoolteacher Franz Gruber who lived in an apartment over the schoolhouse in nearby Arnsdorf. He showed his friend the poem and asked him to add a melody and guitar accompaniment so that it could be sung at the Midnight Mass.

That Christmas evening, however, as the two friends sang "Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!" for the first time, they were far from imagining the impact their Christmas carol would have on the world. The words flowed from the imagination of a modest priest; a musician who was not known outside his village composed the music. The miracle of this carol lies perhaps in its powerful message of heavenly peace that has crossed all borders and language barriers to conquer the hearts of people everywhere.

(Information obtained from writings by the American historian Bill Egan)


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    All Texts and Illustrations © Dulce Rodrigues, 2017. All rights reserved