Silence ~ an Advent Quest ~ Silent Night

Deep silence, deep sorrow, some peace:  Commonwealth War Cemetery, El Alamein, mid 1990s

Silent Night! Holy Night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon godly tender pair
Holy infant with curly hair
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Translated by Bettina Klein
© 1998 Silent Night Museum
A-5024 Salzburg, Steingasse 9

No Advent Quest  would be complete without acknowledgement of Silent Night.

This  Christmas Eve will mark the 200th anniversary of the first public performance of Silent Night in 1818.  It was written by Joseph Mohr in 1816, partly as a way to celebrate  peace and freedom, and to encourage joy, following the end of the Napoleonic  Wars.*

A hundred and four years ago on Christmas Eve in 1914, German officer, Walter Kirchhoff, a tenor with the Berlin Opera  “came forward and sang Silent Night in German, and then in English. In the clear, cold night of Christmas Eve, his voice carried very far.The shooting had stopped and in that silence he sang and the British knew the song and sang back.”

Silent Night has been translated into  hundreds of languages and dialects.  The carol was  declared an intangible, cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2011.

When I listen to  Silent Night, I remember  the Holy Family’s search for peace and sanctuary. And I hear the yearning of most every one of us for  the deep silence of peace.



*For an accurate account  of  why Mohr wrote Silent Night, please read the comment by Shoreacres.

For more information on the recording in the final link please click here

59 thoughts on “Silence ~ an Advent Quest ~ Silent Night

  1. Pingback: We had fallen, but we were redeemed | Micheline's Blog

  2. Lavinia Ross

    I have always loved that story of Christmas Eve, 1914. “They recognized that on both ends of the rifle, they were the same.” If only our world leaders today could understand this truth.

  3. Su Leslie

    I have huge admiration and respect for Sir Lloyd. I was raised a Presybterian, but always hankered after the much more glamorous rituals and surroundings of catholic and Anglican churches. It’s not til I got to university and learned about Durkheim’s sacred-profane dichotomy that I began to understand the role of music and art in religious faith. Fundamentalism, it seems to me, insults the intelligence — especially the emotional intelligence — of worshippers.

  4. Su Leslie

    I’m an atheist who adores traditional church music (and architecture, ritual, etc). I usually get my fix at Christmas Eve carol services and have always loved Silent Night. I remember learning the Maori translation at primary school and have just found it online — to discover (unsurprisingly) that I’ve been singing it quite incorrectly all these years. So my mission before Tuesday is to learn the actual words. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I wish you all the best with your mission. When I was writing this post, I actually looked, on YouTube, for a Maori version of Silent Night to link in the text. Unfortunately I couldn’t find one which I liked. Your approach to God and the church reminds me of the amazing Sir Lloyd Geering. I think you and I may have discussed him on one of your blog posts.

  5. Don Ostertag

    Such a beautiful hymn. I remember a Christmas Eve at my Dad’s cousin’s where everyone had to sing Silent Night before we could open our gifts. One of the jokers asked if he could sing Jingle Bells instead. He got a rap on the head for his ‘sacrilege’.

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      A great memory! I don’t really blame the joker. I always hit the wrong notes in Silent Night. Jingle Bells is a much easier song for me to sing. But, yes, the request was ‘sacrilege’ in the circumstances.

  6. utesmile

    A wonderful Christmas song and my family sang it together every year , in German of course. I was surprised that it so famous all over when I came to England. As far as I know the church where Mohr was can be visited, as it became quite famous through it. It is such a peaceful and calm carol.

      1. utesmile

        It did sound a bit strange the first time in English, and even now it sound better in German for me. Both however sound peaceful though. Funny, the Lord’s prayer I always only do in German. It does not sound genuine in English to me. 🙂

  7. Steve Schwartzman

    Just the other night, while watching a Christmas concert on television, I mentioned to Eve that the standard English version of “Silent Night” says different things than “Stille Nacht.” It’s not unusual for “translations” not to be actual translations. Do you remember the song that first became popular in the 1950s that begins “I found my April dream in Portugal with you when we discovered romance like a never knew”? Later, when I studied Portuguese, I heard the original version, which has nothing at all to do with romance but praises the Portuguese city of Coimbra.

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I don’t know that song but this week my daughter and I have been discussing song translations as well some amusing (to us) music choices for well-known hymns. For example the music we know today for Hark the Herald Angels Sing is from Mendelssohn’s Gutenberg Cantata.

        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Hmm…… both have their charms but I prefer the original Portuguese version. It just sounds right. I am not sure why it was meddled with.

    1. thecontentedcrafter

      Kerry thank you – you have said perfectly what I wanted to say……… This is a carol that has always moved me deeply and it makes me feel the world the way I want it to be – I’m sure that is why it endures. My history professor, on coming to an enlightened, or touching but unproven aspect of any historical event would say “and if it didn’t happen exactly this way, it should have” and then beam at us over his glasses. I always knew exactly what he meant. I’m off to watch your link.

        1. Gallivanta Post author

          LIz, I would have enjoyed meeting him. And thank you, Liz, for the news that Telling Sonny is awaiting readers. I had a “look inside’ your novel on Amazon. I am intrigued.

      1. Gallivanta Post author

        I like the sound of your professor! I suppose there are certain things/events in history which are beyond dispute but others are open to interpretation and different possibilities. I love this article from the archaeological group which has been studying Christchurch sites since the earthquakes. It’s serious as well as very funny. I think your history professor would have approved.

        1. Liz Gauffreau

          I enjoyed the article. Now that’s MY kind of archaeology. When I was a kid, National Geographic articles about Pompeii and Tutankhamun convinced me that archaeology was the career to have. Come to find out, it involves hours in the hot sun sifting grids of dirt through a screen. That was the end of that career aspiration.

        2. Gallivanta Post author

          Teehee. Yes, the archaeology here is a more gentle pursuit, although the archaeologists seem to get their share of mud and muck, heat and cold.

    2. Gallivanta Post author

      I know the story of Christmas in the Trenches but I don’t think I have heard this song before. I enjoyed listening to it. I notice it comes from an album called Winter Solstice. I like the idea that I am listening to a Winter Solstice composition as we approach our Summer Solstice. And, yes, the power of Silent Night to communicate to so many different people, over 200 years, is extraordinary.

  8. shoreacres

    Far be it from me to quibble about “Silent Night,” but you might be interested in reading this history of the song. As it points out, a lot of stories have been attached to it over the years; I’ve never heard the one you include here about Mohr’s motivation to write the lyrics. It’s true that Mohr wrote the lyrics in 1816, when he was a young priest assigned to a pilgrimage church in Mariapfarr, Austria, but most with the assessment in the linked article that “we have no idea if any particular event inspired Joseph Mohr to pen his poetic version of the birth of the Christ child.”

    That said, what matters is that the song endures. It’s the first carol I learned to sing in the original language, one of the first I learned to play on guitar (just as it originally was performed), and it’s been a staple of midnight candlelight services through the years. I suspect it’s endured partly because of its ability to evoke a sense of peace in the human heart.

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      You are right to quibble. On reading your linked article, and on rereading the links in my article, there is indeed no actual evidence of any particular event which inspired Mohr to write Silent Night. In the links in my post, there is only a suggestion that the post-wars environment and the Year Without a Summer may have influenced Mohr’s lyrics, as well as the subsequent popularity of the song. Unless further documentation comes to light, I guess we may never know exactly why Mohr wrote Silent Night. As you say, what matters is that the song endures. (Although I do like my history to be as correct as possible! ) And it’s lovely to hear the memories Silent Night holds for you. Do you still play the guitar?

      1. shoreacres

        No, the guitar playing ended about the time that sailing became such a part of my life. As the wonderful saying goes, we can have it all — we just can’t have it all at the same time.

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I didn’t know most of this story either until I started to put together my post. I have lovely memories of joining in Silent Night at Christmas Eve services in the Anglican Cathedral in Fiji. The windows and doors were open to the tropical air and our voices soared out into the night. After the service, if the weather was fine, we would walk home under a starry sky. It was magical. And we felt as though Mary and Baby Jesus were right there with us.

        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Thank you for your compliment. 🙂 No, I haven’t written a poem about this experience, but I am glad I managed to convey some of the great pleasure of that evening service. I can’t find a suitable version of Silent Night but here is a video of the singing style in churches in Fiji. It makes my spirit soar.

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