The Songs Of Christmas – Silent Night

Christmas_Mary_and_Baby_Jesus011As I traditionally do, I’ve been enjoying the songs of Christmas. For years I had a tradition each year of buying a new tape, then a CD, of Christmas songs. The thing I’ve come to realize, however, is that some of them are horrendous. Oh, they might sound fine, and they might invoke nostalgic thoughts, but the words are a bit of a mess.

And I’m speaking of the religious carols. For instance, one which I’ve loved for years, has a line about the shepherds looking up at the star shining in the east. Well . . . , no, the shepherds had nothing to do with the star which the wisemen saw and eventually followed.

Then there’s my childhood favorite, “We Three Kings”—about an unknown number of eastern astrologers who likely were not kings at all. Christmas songs are not the best when it comes to Biblical facts and theology.

Of course some are more contemplative and others take the lyrics straight from Scripture. Still others are the work of poets who got it right. “Silent Night” happens to be such a song—at least as far as the English translation is concerned.

The original was written in 1816 by Joseph Mohr, an assistant Austrian priest, the illegitimate son of a peasant woman.

The Napoleonic Wars ended the year before, and Europe was in the midst of a shift in power, with Austria one of four powers forming the Quadruple Alliance (the other three being England, Prussia—Germany was not yet a unified nation—and Russia).

A variety of stories have been passed down regarding the first performance of “Silent Night,” but no one really knows the particulars other than that the words Mohr wrote in 1816, all six verses, were set to music by Franz Xavier Gruber in 1818 and performed on Christmas Eve at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria.

The composer and the lyricist were both skillful and trained musicians, and they performed the song backed by the church choir. It quickly caught on because two traveling music groups (think, the von Trapp Family Singers) added it to their Christmas repertoire. Eventually “Frederick Wilhelm IV, King of Prussia, heard “Silent Night” at the Berlin Imperial Church and ordered it to be sung throughout the kingdom at Christmas pageants and services” (Catholic Straight Answers).

In 1863 either Jane Campbell or John Young translated the song into English. Not long afterward, it made its way to America and appeared in print in Charles Hutchins’ Sunday School Hymnal in 1871.

Today we commonly see only three stanzas, but they’re worth singing again and again.

Silent night, holy night!
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

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia,
Christ the Savior is born!
Christ the Savior is born

Silent night, holy night!
Son of God love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth

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Published in: on December 13, 2016 at 6:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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