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Silent Night: a message of peace for the world

Six verses that changed the world. From the very first time it was heard, the song has been a symbol of hope, peace and solidarity.

“Silent Night! Holy Night!”: a song that connects people and one that has rung out around the world as a message of peace for 200 years – transcending national borders, language barriers and religions. In 2011 “Silent Night” was listed as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
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When the song lyrics were written, in 1816, a small detail became a symbol for overcoming barriers. The author Joseph Mohr, an assistant priest from Salzburg decided to write the original poem “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!” in German. This was unusual in the early nineteenth century, when religious texts were generally composed in Latin – a language that was understood only by the educated classes. But Joseph Mohr, a down-to-earth man, saw his strength in ministering to people. He had a particular concern for the poor and needy, for community and mutual understanding. The German text – which could easily be understood by everyone – was undoubtedly an audible manifestation of this. His own profound Christian faith also flowed into his lyrics. The touching melody by Franz Xaver Gruber, a teacher from Arnsdorf, completed the composition, which was to become a symbol for peace and humaneness.

St. Florianer Boys' Choir sing "Silent Night"

“Silent Night! Holy Night!” in the trenches

Christmas 1914 on the Western Front: Only five months after the outbreak of the First World War, more than a million soldiers had already fallen or been wounded. But then an extraordinary pacifist miracle of fraternization took place among thousands of soldiers of different nationalities: 

On December 24th, Christmas Eve, quiet fell over the trenches. On both sides of the some 30 mile (50 km) long front in Flanders, the combatants laid down their weapons and helmets and sang Christmas carols of their native countries. “Silent Night! Holy Night!” was one of them – sung in various mother tongues. An act of solidarity and a sign of peace in the midst of war.

A message of hope and optimism in 6 verses

  • 1. Silent night! Holy night!
    All is calm, all is bright,
    Round yon Virgin Mother and Child!
    Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
    Sleep in heavenly peace!
    Sleep in heavenly peace!
  • 2. Silent night! Holy night!
    Shepherds quake at the sight!
    Glories stream from Heaven afar,
    Heavenly Hosts sing Alleluia!
    Christ, the Saviour, is born!
    Christ, the Saviour, is born!

  • 3. Silent night! Holy night!
    Son of God, love’s pure light
    Radiant beams from Thy Holy Face
    With the dawn of redeeming grace,
    Jesus, Lord, at Thy Birth!
    Jesus, Lord, at Thy Birth!

  • 4. Silent Night, Holy Night
    Here at last, healing light
    From the heavenly kingdom sent,
    Abundant grace for our intent.
    Jesus, salvation for all.
    Jesus, salvation for all.

  • 5. Silent Night! Holy Night
    Sleeps the world in peace tonight.
    God sends his Son to earth below
    A Child from whom all blessings flow
    Jesus, embraces mankind.
    Jesus, embraces mankind.

  • 6. Silent Night, Holy Night
    Mindful of mankind's plight
    The Lord in Heav'n on high decreed
    From earthly woes we would be freed
    Jesus, God's promise for peace.
    Jesus, God's promise for peace.

The song as a political message of peace

The economist and philosopher Leopold Kohr, who was born in Oberndorf and emigrated to the US in 1938, was the author of many antiwar publications during the Second World War. With the help of “Silent Night! Holy Night!”, Kohr initiated a number of campaigns eliciting support for his native country. For years, every Christmas season he published dozens of newspaper articles in which he used “Silent Night” as a political song against Nazi Germany and for the liberation of Austria.  

 

““Silent Night” starts off as a lullaby for the newborn Christ Child. The comforting thought of salvation and love threads through all six verses.”

Solidarity and aid

Austria’s famous Trapp Family from “The Sound of Music” emigrated to the US before the outbreak of the Second World War. After the end of the war a US officer approached the singing family from Salzburg and described the suffering of the people of Salzburg that he witnessed when he arrived in the city with the famous “Rainbow” Division. The Trapp Family responded immediately by founding Trapp Family Austrian Relief Inc., with its headquarters in Vermont. Some 150 tons of relief supplies were donated when the Trapp Family began opening their concerts with the following appeal: “The country that gave to the world Haydn, Schubert, Mozart, and Silent Night will perish if we do not help.”

 

The magic of "Silent Night"

  • Holy Night Chapel, Oberndorf © SalzburgerLand Tourismus GmbH / Eva-Maria Repolusk / eva trifft Holy Night Chapel, Oberndorf © SalzburgerLand Tourismus GmbH / Eva-Maria Repolusk / eva trifft
  • Original score © SalzburgerLand Tourismus GmbH / Kathrin Gollackner Original score © SalzburgerLand Tourismus GmbH / Kathrin Gollackner
  • House of Franz Xaver Gruber in Hallein © SalzburgerLand Tourismus GmbH / Kathrin Gollackner House of Franz Xaver Gruber in Hallein © SalzburgerLand Tourismus GmbH / Kathrin Gollackner
  • Silent Night Museum Arnsdorf © Stille Nacht Museum Arnsdorf Silent Night Museum Arnsdorf © Stille Nacht Museum Arnsdorf
  • Children with candles © SalzburgerLand Tourismus GmbH / Achim Meurer Children with candles © SalzburgerLand Tourismus GmbH / Achim Meurer

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Silent Night: a message of peace for the world

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