Silent Night:The Story Behind the Carol

This morning I asked a few residents what their favorite Christmas carol was.

"Jingle Bells!" one lady said with a grin.

A few others mentioned ones they enjoyed. After I had paused a few moments, I asked, "Anybody like 'Silent Night'?"

There was total agreement in the room. We all loved that carol

Just what is it about "Silent Night" that speaks to the world so powerfully?

Maybe it's the lilting, almost lullaby-sound of the words "sleep in heavenly peace." Maybe it's the crystal clear retelling of an ancient story that seems eternally new. Or maybe it's just the tradition--the growing up and growing old with this enduring song.

One thing is certain, though. "Silent Night" had humble beginnings.

It all began in 1818 with a broken organ in the small church in Oberndorf, Austria. Because of the inability to perform their nativity at the church, the actors decided to perform in someone's home. In the audience sat Josef Mohr, the assistant pastor. The simplicity and awe of the Christmas story seized him. As he walked home from the performance that night, he crossed through the hills overlooking the tiny village blanketed in snow. The words from a poem he had written a few years before came back to him.

With the organ broken, Mohr wondered if he could find a way for his congregation to sing the words to the poem.

The following morning, Mohr went to see Franz Xaver Gruber, the church's organist. Gruber set to work crafting a melody that could be sung with a guitar, and that evening, the carol "Silent Night" was sung for the very first time.

It is possible that "Silent Night" would never have spread beyond that village if not for the organ repairman. After finishing the repairs, he stood back to let Gruber play something and affirm that it was indeed fixed.

Gruber took a seat before the organ and played the simple melody he had composed only a few weeks earlier. The repairman was so pleased with the song that he asked Gruber for copies of the music and took it with him to his home in Kapfing, Austria.

From there, it spread to other villages and singing groups, eventually coming to America. Today, "Silent Night" has been translated into over 300 different languages worldwide and is considered by many to be the world's most popular carol.

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