Happy birthday to Teresa Bates from Corby also. May both birthday girls have the happiest of days and leave room for plenty of cake and suitable refreshments. What an absolutely wonderful day of the year to have one’s birthday on when the promise of a newborn star offers renewed hope and happiness for a more wholesome world.
Today’s Christmas carol is ‘Silent Night’. ‘Silent Night’ (German: "Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht") is a popular Christmas carol that was composed in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics by Joseph Mohr in the small town of Oberndorf bei Salzbur, Austria. It was declared ‘an intangible cultural heritage’ by UNESCO in 2011. The song has been recorded by many singers across many music genres. The version sung by Bing Crosby in 1935 is the ‘fourth best-selling single of all-time’.
The song was first performed on Christmas Eve of 1818 at St Nicholas parish church in Obernof, a village in the Austrian Empire on the Salzach River in present-day Austria. A young priest, Father Joseph Mohr, had come to Oberndorf the year before. He had written the lyrics of the song "Stille Nacht" in 1816 at Mariapfarr, the hometown of his father in the Salzburg Lungau region, where Joseph had worked as a co-adjutor.
Before Christmas Eve, Mohr brought the words to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the Christmas Eve mass, after river flooding had damaged the church organ. The church was eventually destroyed by repeated flooding and replaced with the ‘Silent-Night-Chapel’. It is unknown what inspired Mohr to write the lyrics, or what prompted him to create a new carol. Over the years, because the original manuscript had been lost, Mohr's name was forgotten and although Gruber was known to be the composer, many people assumed the melody was composed by a famous composer, and it was variously attributed to Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven. However, a manuscript was discovered in 1995 in Mohr's handwriting and dated by researchers as c. 1820. It states that Mohr wrote the words in 1816 when he was assigned to a pilgrim church in Mariapfarr, Austria, and shows that the music was composed by Gruber in 1818. This is the earliest manuscript that exists and the only one in Mohr's handwriting. The first edition was published by Friese (de) in 1833 in a collection of ‘Four Genuine Tyrolean Songs’.
While the world was at war during 1914-1917, eventual peace was something that was never far from the thoughts of all soldiers on the battlefields, whether they be English, French or German soldiers. And it took thoughts of Christmas away from home to bring the notion of peace back into the minds of these combatants.
The ‘First World War’ was a global war originating in Europe and which lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Yet, mere months after its commencement, there was a series of widespread ‘unofficial’ ceasefires along the Western Front around Christmas 1914. Hostilities had lulled as leadership on both sides reconsidered their strategies following the stalemate which resulted from the indecisive result of the ‘First Battle of Ypres’.
In the week leading up to the 25th December 1914, French, German and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and to talk to each other. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into ‘No Man’s Land’ on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Men played games of football with one another, creating one of the most memorable images of the truce. But no soldier from either camp who took part in this unconventional truce will ever forget ‘Silent Night’ being sung in both German and English during that Christmas-Eve truce of 1914.
Christmas truces were particularly significant due to the number of men involved and the level of their participation. Even in very peaceful sectors, dozens of men openly congregating in daylight was remarkable, and are often seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of human history.
There are three things that tell me when Christmas has truly begun. First is the erection of the family Christmas Tree, second is the singing of ‘Silent Night’ at the high spot of the Midnight Mass and third is seeing the faces of little children light up in sheer pleasure and surprise on Christmas morning as they eagerly unwrap their presents beneath the family Christmas tree.
I know that not all families are fortunate to have such memories in their family scrap albums, and I deeply feel for them in this respect. I thank my Maker though that these three memories have remained with me ever since my adult years of getting married and parenting children. Since I found lasting love with my wife and soul mate, Sheila, the spiritual dimension of Christmas became ever brighter in both the heavens and our home.
Sheila and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Love and peace Bill xxx