Christmas is quickly approaching and many of us are busily shopping, decorating and baking. We listen to Christmas carols during our day, but don’t know some of the history of our most beloved songs.
There is a moving story from World War I. It is the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914.
Five months into the war, nearly one million lives had already been lost. The Germans had pushed their way through Belgium into France. The Germans, Belgians and British wouldn’t budge and literally began to dig in. The Christmas Spirit took hold in the most unlikely place – the bloody western front.
On Christmas Eve, more than 100 years ago, there was a raising of a soft sound never heard before on the battlefield. It was a Christmas carol. The German’s strongly sung out “Stille Nacht” and when they finished, the British replied with the same carol – Silent Night.
The next morning, in some places, German soldiers emerged from their trenches, calling out “Merry Christmas” in English. Allied soldiers came out warily to greet them. Over the course of the day, some troops exchanged gifts of cigarettes, food, buttons and hats. The Christmas truce also allowed both sides to finally bury their dead comrades, whose bodies had lain for weeks on “no man’s land,” the ground between opposing trenches.
Although the truce was short-lived, it was a time to be remembered – a time when soldiers stopped slaughtering each other and showed some peace and humanity in the midst of a brutal war.
You can read a little more about the Christmas truce here: Christmas Truce WW 1 1914
This parallels what’s going on today in America. It seems like so many are at each other’s throat fighting tooth and nail. Can’t we come together as one – even just for Christmas?
I’m sure many carols have their own unique story, but Silent Night has two wonderful stories that I know about.
How did this beloved carol come to be?
The song was first performed on Christmas Eve mass in 1818 at St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg, Austria. A young priest, Father Joseph Mohr, had come to Oberndorf the year before. He had written the lyrics of the song “Stille Nacht” in 1816, but needed music to go with it. He brought the lyrics to Franz Gruber, a schoolmaster and organist in a nearby village and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the Christmas Eve mass. Together they performed the new carol during the mass.
It did not instantly receive the worldwide recognition it has come to know, however. It was not until years later in 1825 when Carl Mauracher was rebuilding the organ at St. Nicholas that a handwritten copy of the words and music was found in the organ loft.
There is folklore that the church organ was broken and Fr. Mohr would have no special music for the Christmas Eve mass. The poem he wrote kept running through his mind, but he needed a tune. His friend, Franz Gruber, wrote the music so they could sing it together accompanied by a guitar. There is no evidence of this, but it does add a little spice to the story.
Why Is “Silent Night” So Popular?
Why has “Silent Night” become one of our most beloved carols? Is it the words — simple and tender? Or is it the tune — peaceful, memorable and so easy to play on the guitar or piano?
It isn’t a fast-paced carol like Handel’s “Joy to the World.” It’s not rich, theologically, like Charles Wesley’s “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”. It doesn’t have a complex tune like “Angels We Have Hear on High”.
“Silent Night” is quiet and reflective, calling us to meditate on the scene. The tender words and melody create an image of peace:”All is calm, all is bright.”
It calls us to dwell on the Mother and Child —
“‘Round yon Virgin, mother and Child,
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace.”
You actually feel as the “shepherds quake at the sight.” You can imagine the “heavenly hosts sing Alleluia.”
You can picture of light by the words:
“Glories stream from heaven afar….”
“Son of God, love’s pure light,
Radiant beams from Thy holy face….”
Who is in this manger? What is the significance of this birth? What is Christmas really about? Perhaps “Silent Night” is beloved because it reminds us a very clear and simple way, the truth behind it all – the truth that changes everything:
“Christ, the Savior is born!”
Sing “Silent Night” this Christmas and let its gentle peace wash over you
and its spirited affirmation renew your soul:
“Jesus, Lord, at thy birth!”
“Jesus, Lord, at thy birth!”
From our PICC family to yours,
Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year!
I hope you enjoyed reading this article.
Be sure to check out another of my articles: Our Journey
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