Friday, December 04, 2009

Christmas Hymns

My two favorite Christmas hymns are Silent Night and O Holy Night.

The words to Silent Night were written in Austria in 1816 by a priest named Joseph Mohr. He wrote it as a poem, and took it with him when he was transferred to a village called Oberndorf the next year. On Christmas Eve 1818 he travelled to his friend Franz Gruber’s house in a nearby village and asked him to write a melody for his poem. That night the two of them sang Silent Night with a guitar accompaniment for Midnight Mass. From these humble beginnings came one of the most popular songs of all time.

O Holy Night was written when a French poet named Placide Cappeau was asked by a priest to write a poem for Christmas Mass. Cappeau was on a trip to Paris on December 3, 1847 when he pondered the birth of Jesus as recorded in Luke chapter two. He pictured what it would be like if he had been there the night of the Savior’s birth and through that inspiration came the words to O Holy Night. Though only asked to write a poem, upon arriving in Paris he asked his friend Adolphe Adam to put it to music. As the song gained in popularity over the ensuing years, its author and composer both suffered through persecution and hardship. As with Silent Night, the authors of O Holy Night were of humble origins and hardly knew they had written what would become one of the world’s most beloved hymns.

To me, the stories behind my favorite Christmas carols perfectly represent the spirit of the season. Christmas has become a hugely popular holiday the world over, but it has its beginnings in a humble stable. It was hardly what one would expect of the birth of a King. Perhaps this is why I love Christmas music so much – it helps me to remember the circumstances surrounding the birth of Christ, as well as the life He lived. It is a joyful and exciting event, yet it’s also a sacred and humbling one.