Silent Night! Holy Night

December 24, 2018 is the 200th anniversary of the song Silent Night. It was first performed at mass on this day in 1818. Here is some of the backstory to Silent Night. From The United Methodist Church Discipleship site:


The story of “Stille Nacht” is one of the most endearing and enduring in Christian hymnody, though highly romanticized. Joseph Mohr (1792-1848) was an Austrian cathedral chorister in Salzburg as a boy. He was ordained into the Catholic priesthood in 1815. He spent most of his life ministering in parishes near Salzburg. Living a simple life, he died in poverty after giving away what little he had to the poor.

In 1816, Mohr penned the original six stanzas of the poem that would make him famous around the world. He was serving as an assistant priest in Oberndorf, now a skiing area in the Austrian Alps. Franz Xaver Gruber (1787-1863) was an Austrian cantor and school teacher, holding church positions near Salzburg including Oberndorf. While a prolific composer, little was published and none known now save this Weihnachtslied (Christmas carol). Tradition has it that the carol was composed for a text by his assistant priest Joseph Mohr on short notice for the Christmas Eve Mass in Oberndorf in 1818. While it was first accompanied on guitar, it may not have been because the organ didn’t work. As Carl Daw Jr. notes, “the organ at St. Nicholas Church was in chronic need of attention.” (Daw, 126) That this was due to mice eating the bellows cannot be verified and probably is closer to apocryphal romanticism than fact. We do know, however, that Joseph Mohr had a guitar it use seems to have been for aesthetic reasons rather than an organ emergency: the guitar was more appropriate for accompanying this folk-like melody than an organ. Though this was not the normal instrument for the Mass, it was used in this case to great effect.


Silent Night is in my top 5 favorite carols. The other 4 would be Hark! The Herald Angels Sing; Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus; O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and Of the Father’s Love Begotten. 

We will be concluding our service tonight at McCrae Brook by singing this wonderful Christmas carol, complete with guitar accompaniment.

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