The day “Silent Night” hushed up No Man’s Land
An original German carol, “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night) is one of the most frequently performed Christmas songs around the world. In essence, it’s a poem written by Pastor Franz Mohr in Austria (1816). Mohr was on assignment at the time in a pilgrim church in his father’s hometown. He transferred to St. Nicholas Parish (1818), and this church was flooded and the organ damaged. But in a few hours, it was going to be Christmas eve, so he brought his poem to German composer Franz Xaver Gruber and asked Gruber to set the poem to music so it could be played with guitar accompaniment during Christmas Eve service. Gruber delivered upon Mohr’s request and at midnight, “Silent Night”, an upbeat pastorale, almost-dance carol, premiered at St. Nicholas Parish. It uplifted the spirits of the congregation after they experienced miserable flooding. Compared to the St. Nicholas Parish Christmas eve version which has a moderato tune and Sicilian rhythm, the carol which is popular these days is the slow, reverent ballad English translation published by Bishop John Freeman Young. Young’s translation in 1859 has only 3 of the original 6 verses of Mohr. But its popularity expanded across cultures and its popularity spread early on.
During World War I, Pope Benedict VI called for a truce across the winter-blanketed No Man’s Land. It was more of a wish on the Pope’s part, after all, it was The Great War, nobody expected a peace treaty. Not until the German soldiers began decorating their trenches before Christmas. The British soldiers did the same. The Christmas Truce story varies depending on what you read, but the gist of it was that from their side of No Man’s Land the German troops began singing “Stille Nacht”. The British heard and since they knew the carol, they chimed in singing “Silent Night”. For one peaceful moment amidst war, this carol silenced the guns and hearts of men. Apart from it being the 3rd best-selling single ever, it became a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage music (2011).