“All Is Calm, All Is Bright”

Wishing you a beautiful and joyous Christmas and holiday season!

As I’m writing this blog post, it’s Christmas Eve…but you’ll probably be reading it on Christmas Day. It’s quiet now as I sit in the chair; soon, the others will go to bed and I’ll be the last one up. The only sounds: the click of the keys on my laptop. What a contrast to the busyness of the day! I worked at my retail job and had a marvelous time calming customers, ringing up the orders as fast as possible, and listening to stories about the reasons for returns. Noisy, noisy…silent, silent. What a contrast!

I’ve been writing about the history behind favorite Christmas songs this month and wanted to share about one very special song on this memorable day. It’s a song most of us know well. If we don’t sing it at least once during season, we at least hear it.

Silent Night

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 the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

Franz Gruber, who wrote the tune of “Silent Night”

This year marks two hundred years since this Christmas song was written. A young priest named Joseph Mohr had written the poetry two years early and pulled it out at an opportune moment in 1818.

Somehow the organ in his parish church in Oberdorf (Austria) had been badly damaged; some versions say by church mice, others claim it was flooding that silenced the instrument. Mohr wanted to make the Christmas Eve services special for his congregation and knew how much value the parishioners placed on music. He visited Franz Xaver Gruber in a nearby village and asked this schoolmaster and organist to compose a tune to fit the poem. Gruber’s creation – originally written for guitar – was introduced to the congregation during the Christmas Eve services. Simple, powerful words set to an easy to follow tune. Introduced to a world still reeling and rebuilding from the European misadventures with Napoleon.

The Christmas song quickly gain popularity as traveling musicians and performers took it across Europe in the next years, becoming a traditional classic and eventually translated into many languages. The song has a beloved place in history – sometimes sung in wars, in midnight truces, in times of mourning, in times of joy.

As we lit the candles at church for the candle light service, it was a time of hushed worship. At the conclusion of the service, the entire congregation sang Silent Night. The candles flickered, the voices soared. Piano accompanied us that evening, but I could reimagine that first night and a congregation learning the song for the very first time.

Thinking farther back in history beyond 1818 and the writing of Silent Night, there’s the account that inspired Mohr’s lyrics. Simple and yet majestically powerful. A Savior had entered the world. History would never be the same. The Gospel of Luke records:

And she brought forth her first born Son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shown around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angle said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…” (Luke 2:7-11)

The dawn of redeeming grace. An infant Savior. Emmanuel – God with us.

I know this blog post is rather different than the usual quick, informative history featured on Gazette665; we’ll get back to “regular” history tomorrow. But I wanted to share about that song written two hundred years ago and the history that inspired the priest and the composer to collaborate to celebrate. I’ve included two lovely videos of Silent Night for your peaceful enjoyment…

Your Historian,’

Miss Sarah

Traditional version of Silent Night in German

My Favorite Version of Silent Night (This Year)

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