Editor’s Note: This is a guest story by Sheila Ingle. This is the 5th post of Diva Christmas 2019 – reason for the season!
Legend has it that we enjoy singing Silent Night, Holy Night because of a broken church organ.
In the village of Oberndorf, near Salzburg, Austria, was the small Church of St. Nicholas. Some stories say that mice or rust was the cause of the ruined organ, but there would be no music at the Christmas Eve service. It was 1818.
Knowing that music was an important part of worship, Parish Priest Josef Mohr took a longer way home on the icy night. The slower path took him up over a hill overlooking the village, and he remembered a poem he had written a couple of years earlier. Looking down over the quiet, snow-covered countryside, he visualized the scene when the angels announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds.
The next morning, he took the poem to the organist Franz Xaver Gruber. This talented musician created the melodious melody that could be sung to a guitar.
On Christmas Eve at the Midnight Mass, the little Oberndorf congregation heard Gruber and Mohr sing their new composition in German to the accompaniment of Gruber’s guitar. They quickly picked up on this new song celebrating the birth of Jesus.
The organ builder arrived the next month, heard the song, and shared it in other villages, as he went about his work. In 1834, King Frederick William IV of Prussia heard it. He then ordered his cathedral choir to sing it every Christmas eve. By 1863, the carol had arrived in America.
What an amazing history.
The simple words of this song even helped halt a battle.
The year was 1914, and soldiers on both sides of the battlefield somewhere in France were enduring a dark and frozen Christmas Eve night. World War I, the Great War, as it was called, eventually took the lives of more than 10 million people. But it is doubtless that the mostly-young men of that Christmas Eve were contemplating much more beyond their longings for home and warmth and family.
When soldiers on the German line placed candles on small Christmas trees and raised them above their trenches it touched the hearts of their enemies. These men — thousands of them on both sides — spontaneously began to sing the carols of Christmas.
Londoner Graham Williams described it. “First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing – two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”
What began in those moments became the legendary Christmas truce. Weapons were put down; men gathered in No-Man’s Land, and they agreed on a truce to celebrate Christmas. A miracle, if you will, where British, Belgian, and French soldiers put down their weapons to fellowship with their enemies.
No shots were fired. Men on both sides buried their dead, took off their helmets, and held memorial services. Turning, they headed for their respective trenches. A voice broke the stillness with the opening words of “Silent Night, Holy Night” in French. From not far away, another voice, this time in German, joined in. Soon both sides sang about the “heavenly peace” that was far away.
It has the style of a lullaby. In fact, this is the carol I sang to our son Scott on his first few Christmases, as I rocked him to sleep. The words are tender and quiet, and the peaceful tune would send him to dream land quickly. As I held Scott, I couldn’t help but think about Mary and how she felt when she held Jesus for the first time.
Round yon Virgin, mother and Child,
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
There is no question about Who is in the manger. He is “Holy Infant,” Jesus! His birth is God’s gift to us, because “Christ, the Savior is born.” The world is changed in an instant, because He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” This is Christmas. The “sweet, little Jesus boy” has brought peace to you and me. As the words declare, “Jesus, Lord at thy birth!”
Shall we sing this beautiful carol with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?
South Carolinian Sheila Ingle is the author of five books about unknown heroines who lived in SC. She blends history and fiction to create memorable women. You can read more about her at sheilaingle.com, @sheilaingle, Facebook Sheila Ingle Author.