Borrowed from Al Smith’s Treasury of Hymn History
High up in the Austrian Alps in the region known as the Tyrol – “the land of the mountains,” are found the two little villages of Oberndorf and Arnsdorf. In Obendorf lived a young 26 year old priest named Joseph Mohr. In Arnsdorf lived his friend, Franz Gruber, church organist and village schoolmaster.
The year was 1818 the day before Christmas. Joseph Mohr had started the day making last-minute preparations for the annual Christmas festival which would take place on Christmas evening. There would be a lot of singing, for in that region among the Tyrolean peaks, every child seemed to be born with the love for music. It was one thing they never outgrew. This was very evident at the Christmas song-fest.
Mohr and Gruber had often discussed how beautiful the music seemed to be at Christmastime but as far as they were concerned the “perfect” Christmas song had not yet been found. Joseph Mohr mused – “How wonderful it would be to have something brand-new for tomorrow.” But this thought soon passed for someone came with the news that a poor wood-chopper’s wife had just given birth to a child. He was needed to give his blessing. This meant that he must hurriedly finish as much of the preparations as he could so he could leave for the wood-chopper’s cottage which was located a very good distance from the little town.
That night Mohr was also to attend a Christmas party held at the home of one of his wealthy parishioners. Because walking was Mohr’s only means of travel it would mean that by the time he had finished visiting the wood-chopper’s family he would have to go directly to the Christmas Eve party.
Late that night he finally started home. It had really been a full day. He was tired but he kept reviewing the happenings of the day. The highlight of the day had been his surprise visit to see the newborn baby boy. It had not been a palace, but he found himself surrounded by joy, love and contentment. His heart and mind had been strongly moved as it was again at this moment of reflection.
As he approached the crest of the summit overlooking his village, he paused for a moment. The silence of the night, the starry splendored wintery sky, the twinkling of the village lights, the murmur of the river far below and the realization that tomorrow was Christmas overwhelmed him as they all united in calling forth a symphony of thought that had been crying for expression for a long, long time.
As quickly as he could he descended to his home. Although it was late, he began to write. When he had finished it was 4 o’clock on Christmas morning. Early in the day he hurried to his friend, Gruber. He wanted him to share in this moment of inspiration. As Gruber read the lines that had been written, he was thrilled and exclaimed, “My friend, Joseph, you have found the song we have been looking for!!”
Gruber took his guitar and began to sing Mohr’s words. He said later that they really sang themselves for in a short time the beautiful flowing melody as we know it today had been composed. That night, at the Christmas festival, the parish choir joined them as they introduced it to the villagers. It would take a year before this song would start on its mission to be shared with the world. Due to repeated flooding in the church, the organ frequently needed repair. The man called to do the job came in November 1819. When he finished his repair, he asked Gruber to test the organ for his final approval. Gruber played the new carol. The organ repair man begged Gruber to give him a copy so he might introduce it to his own little village.
Some years later Emperor Frederich at Berlin, Germany proclaimed it the perfect Christmas carol. He ordered it included in all of Germany’s Christmas programs. Its future was secure. Soon it was being translated into other languages and carried around the world.
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.