It would be difficult to find a song with a more fitting history behind it than Silent Night. We live in a world where songs can be pumped out like appliances in a factory, void of soul and significance. This is why the old songs will not be forgotten; they survive because they meant something to the person writing them, and in turn, they mean something to us.
For many years, the original manuscript of Silent Night was lost, and so the identity of its writing was left to speculation. Mozart and Beethoven were two such suspects for the song, but thankfully an original manuscript was found in 1994, and it was revealed that the lyrics were written by a young priest by the name of Joseph Mohr. Through further digging into Mohr’s notes and writings, the story behind Silent Night was finally known.
It was in 1818 when a roving band of actors was going from town to town in the Austrian Alps, performing a play on the birth of Christ. On December 23rd, they arrived in Oberndorf, home to the Church of St. Nicholas. Unfortunately, the church could not be used for the play because the organ was being repaired. The popular story is the organ was damaged by mice, but some also say it was merely rust. Whatever the case, the actors sought help from the townspeople for a location to perform. Someone in the village offered their home as a stage, and the actors accepted. And so, the village gathered into the home on a wintry night and saw the story of Christ’s coming. Joseph Mohr attended, and the performance put him into a meditative mood.
That night, while others hurried back to the warmth of their homes, Mohr took a walk across the snow-covered land surrounding Oberndorf. He found himself upon a hill overlooking the village. Silence, one that only a winter night can bring, filled the air as Mohr gazed upon the snowy village. The moment reminded him of a poem he had written a few years ago. “Silent night, holy night. . .”
The next day, Mohr brought his poem to the church organist, Franz Xaver Gruber. Gruber arranged a tune in a matter of hours, and because the church organ could not be used (due to mice or rust or whatever the case), he arranged it to be sung with a guitar. By the time the church had their next gathering, Silent Night was ready, and Mohr and Gruber humbly brought it to their congregation with naught but voice and guitar. Of course, the people loved the song, and it did not take long for it to spread to neighboring villages, and then across the world.
Silent Night is a staple of the Christmas season. When we sing it, we feel meaning in its lyrics and tune. It was not inspired by greedy desires. Instead, Silent Night was simply inspired by a wonderful story, and a serene, snowy scene. Two hundred years later, the song still carries the serenity of that night each time it is sung.
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