Ellen O’Mahony from Ardfield recalls the history of one of our most popular Christmas carols, and the lovely childhood memories it prompts, of listening to it on the ‘wireless’
THE commercialism and hard work involved in making the season of Christmas festive, dents the magic for me.
However, for the most part, I am old fashioned and love to remember Christmas as it was when I was a child.
My earliest memories would be switching on the ‘wireless’ to listen to Christmas carols.
The carol I most grew to love was Silent Night, as I was ending my days in national school.
I took some music lessons for piano and then, as I progressed through secondary school, I advanced to learn the organ, so some time later I was asked to play for the choir in my local parish church on Christmas morning. That now brings back lovely memories.
Silent Night was first written in the Austrian city of Salzburg in 1816 by a young pastor named Joseph Mohr. Salzburg is one of nine provinces in Austria that get their names from salt mines. The mines provided ‘white gold’ for the province for centuries.
Situated on the edge of the Alps, Salzburg is, of course, synonymous with music – one of its most famous sons being Mozart, who is celebrated annually during ‘Mozart Week’ in late January.
Salzburg is also the city of The Sound of Music and much of it was filmed in and around the region.
Two years after Joseph Mohr wrote his Silent Night ‘poem’, he took it to his very good friend, musician and teacher Franz Gruber, and asked him to put his lyrics to music.
They both then went to a very small church, St Nicholas, in a tiny village called Oberndorf, and together with the choir they sang six verses of Stille Nacht after mass on Christmas Eve in front of a crib, accompanied by a guitar.
A local tale says the organ was out of commission, eaten by mice, though others say it was only out of action due to flooding.
After this, the carol Silent Night was translated into 300 different languages and dialects.
In 2011 it was given Unesco cultural heritage status. However, the power of the carol was never so clear as on Christmas Eve in 1914, when the fighting in the battlefields of WWI ceased for a moment as a lone soldier emerged from the trenches to sing Silent Night.
It was not planned, it was impromptu and all the soldiers from the trenches laid down their arms and walked into ‘No Man’s Land and began to sing Silent Night and Stille Nacht in unison – the famous Christmas truce of 1914.
The song’s message of peace has bridged cultures and generations.
It speaks of hope in hard times and of the beauty that can arise from pain.
The world-famous tenor Placido Domingo said of the carol: ‘It is the Peace Song of the World.’
This year it is 201 years old.
Let us all wish it a Happy Anniversary, and may the message of peace continue to resonate across our future generations.