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11# The humble origins of Silent Night

4 min read

Here’s the surprising history behind your favorite Christmas Carols!
What if “The Red-Nosed Reindeer”, Frosty and the “One Horse Open Sleigh” had nothing to do with Christmas?
Singing Christmas songs goes hand in hand with baking Christmas treats, listening our favorite Christmas tales, watching our favorite Christmas movies, and not only.
Like everything around this period of the year, everything has a story.
From songs that have been saved from being erased forever to not really knowing for sure where a song came from, here is the history of a few Christmas Carols you know and sing still today!

Enjoy our Advent Calendar 2022!

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🎄🎅🏻 THERE ARE ONLY 14 DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS 🎅🏻🎄

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Over the centuries, hundreds of Christmas carols have been composed, and many fall quickly into obscurity.
But not “Silent Night.”
Translated into at least 300 languages, designated by UNESCO as a treasured item of Intangible Cultural Heritage, and arranged in dozens of different musical styles, from heavy metal to gospel, it has become a perennial part of our Christmases.

The legend behind one of the most popular Christmas carols in the world plays out as a sort of Christmas miracle.
As story goes, Father Joseph Mohr of Oberndorf, Austria, was determined to have music at his Christmas Eve service, even though the organ at his beloved St Nicholas Church was broken. So, he penned a poem and asked his friend Franz Gruber to compose a score for it that would not demand an organ.

The truth, however, is a little less fancyful.
In 1816, the Catholic priest wrote the poem “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!” while stationed at a pilgrim church in Mariapfarr, always in Austria, not long after the Napoleonic wars had taken their toll.
In the fall of that year, his congregation in the town of Mariapfarr was reeling. Twelve years of war had decimated the country’s political and social infrastructure. Meanwhile, the previous year – one historians would later dub “The Year Without a Summer” – had been catastrophically cold.
In fact, the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora in 1815 had caused widespread climate change throughout Europe. Volcanic ash in the atmosphere caused almost continuous storms, even snow, in the midst of summer and, as a result, crops failed and there was widespread famine.
Joseph’s congregation was poverty-stricken, hungry and traumatized. So he crafted a set of six poetic verses to convey hope that there was still a God who cared.
When he transferred to St. Nicholas’s two years later, in the town of Oberndorf, just south of Salzburg, he did ask his friend Franz Gruber to help him write guitar music for the poem, which the two performed, backed by a choir, on Christmas Eve of 1818.

But in order to become a worldwide phenomenon, “Silent Night” would need to resonate far beyond Oberndorf.
According to a document written by Gruber in 1854, the song first became popular in the nearby Zillertal valley. From there, two traveling families of folk singers, the Strassers and the Rainers, included the tune in their shows, and the song then became popular across Europe, eventually also in America, where the Rainers sang it on Wall Street in 1839.
At the same time, German-speaking missionaries spread the song from Tibet to Alaska and translated it into local languages. By the mid-19th century, “Silent Night” had even made its way to subarctic Inuit communities along the Labrador coast, where it was translated into Inuktitut as “Unuak Opinak.”

Then the composition evolved.
It was translated into over 300 languages with many different arrangements for various voices and ensembles. It was sung in churches, in town squares, even on the battlefield during World War I, when, during a temporary truce on Christmas Eve, soldiers sang carols from home.
“Silent Night,” by 1914, known around the world, was sung simultaneously in French, German and English.
Over the years, the carol’s mystique grew with its popularity. After the original manuscript was lost, for decades, some speculated that the music had been written by Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven.
However, in 1994, an original manuscript was found in Joseph Mohr’s handwriting, with Franz Gruber named as composer.

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🎄🎅🏻 THERE ARE ONLY 14 DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS 🎅🏻🎄

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MORE STORIES
🎄 ADVENT CALENDAR 2018
🎄 ADVENT CALENDAR 2019
🎄 ADVENT CALENDAR 2020
🎄 ADVENT CALENDAR 2021

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