All is calm, all is bright

From Every Learner’s Knowledge News

December 25, 2008 


Silent Night


What happens when you pair the poetry of a priest with them usic of a school teacher? Christmas magic! On December 24, 1818, in Oberndorf, Austria, Father Josef Mohr gave the schoolmaster, Franz Gruber, a poem he had written two years earlier. Mohr asked his friend to set the poem to music.

Considering Gruber was the church organist, you might think his music would be for voice and organ accompaniment. Yet Gruber wrote it for voice and guitar. Some say the church organ was broken. Others say Mohr, a guitarist, simply wanted more music to play. That part of the story isn’t clear.

What’s certain is that the piece was performed that very Christmas Eve at midnight mass at St. Nicholas Church, where Mohr was the assistant priest. The silence of the night was broken when Mohr, Gruber, and a choir sang “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!” for the first time. Mohr also played his guitar.

“Silent Night” Makes Noise

The song might have just rested in heavenly peace at that point, but Gruber credits an organ builder, Carl Mauracher, with starting the carol’s spread. According to Gruber, Mauracher took the music with him on his business travels. 

Eventually, two singing families, the Strassers and the Rainers, added the song to their repertoires, took it on tour, and made it known throughout Europe. Before long, people were singing “Silent Night” in English as well as German, and in hundreds of other languages, too. 

“Silent Night” Makes Peace

But the story of “Silent Night” isn’t just the story of the song. In 1914, when World War I was only months old, it was once again Christmas Eve, and armies were celebrating as best they could. Troops on both sides began to sing Christmas carols. Eventually, someone sang “Silent Night.”

With “Silent Night,” enemies were temporarily bonded in song, as both sides knew the words and melody. The Germans sang in German, the British sang in English, but they sang this carol together. Soon, soldiers climbed from their trenches and met in No Man’s Land in an impromptu truce.

They buried the dead from both sides, exchanged tokens of Christmas cheer, and even played a game of soccer. The Christmas truce didn’t last, but for a few shining hours in the trenches of the battlefield, it really was a silent night.

–Rebecca Bigelow

Learn the English Lyrics to “Silent Night”

Read (or even sing) it now:


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