The song I remember most during Christmas time every year is Silent Night, my favorite Christmas song. Mom would sing it to me in German when I was young, sitting beside the Christmas tree and just enjoying the beauty of the season and each others company, while watching the snow fall gently outside and waiting in anticipation for Christmas Eve. I’d like to share this beautiful song and it’s history with you all along with a few pictures of Christmas time back home.
Silent Night, Holy Night
Christmas Eve 1818. In 1818 the carol “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht” was heard for the first time in a village church in Oberndorf, Austria. The congregation at that Midnight Mass in St. Nicholas Church listened as the voices of the assistant pastor, Father Joseph Mohr, and the choir director, Franz Xaver Gruber, rang through the church to the accompaniment of Father Mohr’s guitar. On each of the six verses, the choir repeated the last two lines in four-part harmony. On that Christmas Eve, a song was born that would wing its way into the hearts of people throughout the world. Now translated into hundreds of languages, it is sung by untold millions every December from small chapels in the Andes to great cathedrals in Antwerp and Rome. Though meant for a performance in a church Silent Night was composed for guitar. That is rather unusual for those days. Joseph Mohr’s guitar (right) still can be seen at Hallein’s Franz Gruber Museum
A young priest in Mariapfarr. The German words for the original six stanzas of the carol we know as “Silent Night” were written by Joseph Mohr in 1816, when he was a young priest assigned to a pilgrimage 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 through the countryside on a visit to his elderly relative. The fact is, we have no idea if any particular event inspired Joseph Mohr to pen his poetic version of the birth of the Christ child. The world is fortunate however, that he didn’t leave it behind when he was transferred to Oberndorf the following year (1817).
Franz Gruber. On December 24, 1818 Joseph Mohr journeyed to the home of 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 Midnight Mass. His reason for wanting the new carol is unknown. Some speculate that the organ would not work; others feel that the assistant pastor, who dearly loved guitar music, merely wanted a new carol for Christmas.
Stille Nacht (Silent Night) in German with lyrics