Why Was the Night So Silent?

Songs.  Christmas songs.  Discussing Christmas songs was part of the spark that started the Yule Log 365.  Natalie and I have had hours and hours of discussions about Christmas songs.  Talk on which version is best, which is awful, and who should and more importantly shouldn’t ever again record Christmas songs.  All well and good, but very little of our discussions ever centered on the origins of the song or how it came to be.  Taking a closer look at Jingle Bells last week reminded me of how interesting it is to look into the song’s origin story.  So let’s get to the roots of another classic, Silent Night.

Silent Night was born in 1818 in Austria.  One version of its origins starts in late in December of that year.  A group of performers was traveling through the Alps.  They arrived in Oberndorf to perform a recreation of Christ’s birth, but the church organ was out of service.  With no organ the actors opted to present their show in a private home.  One member of the audience was Father Josef Mohr, an assistant to the pastor.  The play put Mohr in a reflective mood and he took the scenic route home, up to the hills overlooking the village.  He gazed down at the quiet snow-covered village.  It was like a scene in a modern-day Christmas card.  This special moment brought back memories of a poem he had written years earlier about the angels announcing the birth of Christ.    Mohr decided that his poem might make the perfect carol to share with the congregation on Christmas.  Challenge- it needed music.  The next day, Christmas Eve, he found the organist at the church, Franz Gruber.  Gruber was to create a melody that could be played for the carol using guitar, since the organ was out of service.  This challenge created a simple melody that would be easy to sing without the grandeur of the organ.  The people enjoyed it greatly!  The song then began to travel to other Alpine villages.  The song eventually made its way to the court of the King of Prussia and he ordered it sung every Christmas eve.  The song arrived in America as early as 1838- performed in German outside Trinity Church in New York.  It would not be until 1863 that the first English translation was made.  The translations came quickly and today cane be found in nearly 200 different languages around the world.  Find your favorite language version translated on the web- click here.

This common song shared among many languages was the centerpiece of the Christmas “truce” during World War I in 1914.  Soldiers came together speaking English, German, and French to sing the familiar tune.  This amazing war-time tale is told in the book Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub.  The book is a great read and would make an excellent gift for a special family member this Christmas.  Dig a little and you might find even more great variations on the origins of Silent Night.  What other songs should we be looking into?  Just let us know.

Secret #10 For the Perfect Christmas

In January we warned you that on the 25th of each month we would be revealing one of our secrets for the perfect Christmas in 2012.  Today we reveal Secret #10- Simple Can Be Better.

This can have many meanings for the holidays.  Simpler schedule, simpler gifts, simpler times.  It is so easy to get caught up in the complexities of the season.  Go here, go there.  Do this, do that.  Buy this, get that.  Remember that Christmas began with the a quiet and simple birth of a child in a manger.  No elaborate spectacles, no budget busting shopping sprees, just a family welcoming the new-born baby.  The simple joys of the holidays are often the most precious.  Think of your favorite holiday memory.  I bet it’s a special moment or kindness shared with family or close friends.  One of my best memories of recent Christmas years is the late evening Christmas Eves spent with my mother.  She would be finishing some special baking treats and I might be wrapping some final stocking stuffers.  The fire was burning warm and bright and we were definitely watching the broadcast of the Pope’s midnight mass.  I see these shared times as truly simple gifts.

That brings to mind the traditional Shaker hymn of the same name.  The melody and lyrics of this tune have become a cherished part of the American Folk Song catalog.  The lyrics speak to exactly what we mean about simple being better.  The first line says “‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free”.  So very true.  Read these two later verses and you can’t help but think a little differently about how Christmas might be:

‘Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,
‘Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,
And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,
Then we’ll all live together and we’ll all learn to say.
‘Tis the gift to have friends and a true friend to be,
‘Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of “me”,
And when we hear what others really think and really feel,
Then we’ll all live together with a love that is real.
(click on the gifts to hear some musical “gifts”)