Silent Night - A History of the Carol

The Facts

In 1816 the text to Silent Night was written by Fr. Joseph Mohr in Mariapfarr, Austria. The music to Silent Night was composed in 1818 by Franz Gruber. Silent Night was first played at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria. Fr. Mohr had originally written the song to be accompanied by a guitar but a second score was written for the church organ. The song had made its way to some of the performing families in Germany and Austria after 1820 and had become part of their concerts establishing it as part of the local Christmas culture.

Obviously, the song was first written in German and its original title is " Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht". The song was translated to English in 1863 by John Freeman Young but had become popular in America two decades earlier. Silent Night was first performed in the US in 1839 by the Rainer family, who sang 'Stille Nacht' at the Alexander Hamilton Monument outside New York City's Trinity Church. Even in its original German it gained popularity in the States.

One of the most famous stories about this song was from the Christmas Eve Truce in WW1. On Christmas Eve 1914 the Germans began singing, " Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht" and so began the Christmas Truce.

The Story behind the Christmas Carol; Silent Night

The story of how the song Silent Night gained popularity is more story than fact because there are no facts to back it up. The credibility comes from the story itself and that it has been repeated since the early to mid 1800's.

The story begins that in 1818 Fr. Mohr had asked Mr. Gruber to compose a melody to go with the words of the song that he had written a few years prior. It is believed that Fr. Mohr wanted the carol to be sung by the children of the village on Christmas Eve's midnight service. As the children practiced the song the church organ broke and the children had to learn the song without a musical accompaniment.