The Story Behind…Silent Night Holy Night

The Story Behind…
Silent Night Holy Night

“Silent Night, Holy Night”

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.

So far as is known, the author and the composer of this beautiful and popular Christmas carol wrote the music and words for this song only, and none other. It was on Christmas Eve in 1818 that this song made its first appearance. It was the custom in the little Austrian village of Obernof to present, annually, the Christmas story as depicted by roving groups of amateur actors. Father Joseph Mohr was invited to the presentation of the play and was deeply touched by the sincerity of the presentation. After the play, he sat and pondered the wonders of God’s great creation. It was a beautiful silent night.

The next day Father Mohr presented the words of “Silent Night” to his friend, Franz Gruber, as a Christmas present. That same evening Mr. Gruber wrote the music with which everyone is now familiar, and he with others sang it to guitar accompaniment, since the organ in the local church was broken.

The song was immediately taken up by the itinerant minstrels throughout South Germany and Austria and was evidently introduced into the hymnody of the United States by Charles L. Hutchinson, who used it first in his Sunday School Hymnal in 1871.

Mohr was born in Salzburg, Austria, on Dec. 11, 1792, and died on Dec. 4, 1848. He was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1815 and spent all of his life serving churches near his birthplace.

Franz Gruber, an Austrian, was born at Hochburg, Nov. 25, 1787, and lived all of his life near Salzburg, as did Mohr. He was a school master in the village of Arnsdorf and served as parish organist. He died on June 7, 1863.

It would seem that both the words and the music of this beautiful Christmas carol were spontaneously inspired during the Christmas festivities in 1818.

Legend tells us that it was an organ fixer who was responsible for the spreading of its popularity, for he sang it for two famous concert singers who it is believed added it to their collections of native mountain songs and started it on its way around the world.