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Silent Night! Holy Night! Where Did This Song Come From?

This year, just before Thanksgiving I began hearing Christmas song being played over the radio. I thought that was too early. Seems each year the songs are being played earlier and earlier. I love listening to them. One of the Christmas songs I love to hear is ‘Silent Night! Holy Night!’ The story behind this song is pretty interesting.

In 1818, a band of roving actors were performing throughout the little towns and hamlets of the Austrian Alps. One night the players came to a tiny village of Oberndorf, near Salzburg, for their annual presentation of the Christmas story.

The play was scheduled for St. Nicholas Church, but a mouse had chewed a hole in the organ bellows, putting the organ out of action. As the bellows could not be repaired in time, the show was presented in a private home instead, and the church’s assistant pastor, Josef Mohr, attended.

As Mohr walked home that night through the new-fallen snow, his path led him over a small hill. Looking down on the little village below, Mohr was deeply impressed by the beauty of the glowing scene and the majestic silence of the wintry night. His thoughts took him back to the first Christmas – when angels spoke to faithful shepherds on a holy night such as this and a poem began to form in his mind. He would later title it “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!”

Arriving home, the pastor quickly penned the words that would inscribe his poem into history. He sincerely wished his poem could be sung at the church’s upcoming Christmas service, but he had no music. The next day Mohr rushed to the home of his good friend Franz Gruber, the church organist. It is reported that Gruber composed a musical setting the same day he received the poem.

On Christmas Day, Gruber and Mohr sang their new song to the congregation gathered in the little church. Since the organ was still in ill repair, Gruber accompanied them on his guitar, and “Silent Night, Holy Night.” was first introduced.

A few weeks later a organ repairman arrived at the church to repair the damage of the church mouse. As soon as he finished his work, Gruber sat down to test the instrument. It is reported that the first song he played was his new Christmas composition. Deeply touched by the music, the repairman took a copy of the song back to his own Alpine village. There, a family of a gifted Austrian singers, the Strasser Sisters, picked it up and began singing it throughout the countryside.

The Strasser quartet created a sensation, and the carol quickly became a European favorite. It was translated into English from the German language in 1863 by Jane Campbell and made its first appearance in America in 1871 in Charles Hutchins’ Sunday School Hymnal.

Yes, the Christmas songs are being sung earlier and earlier, but I never get tired of hearing …….  ‘Silent Night! Holy Night!’

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