When I was ten years old, my family moved to Germany for three years. That first Christmas in a faraway country was like a fairy tale in so many ways. The Christmas Fair at Frankfurt, the toys in the windows of the little German shops, the beautiful hand blown tree ornaments, and the luscious pasties all added joy to a holiday for a very homesick child. One memory of that first German Christmas will always be with me—the music of “Silent Night” sounding in a small German church, and my first experience of hearing the song sung in German. All of us have heard the story that in 1818 the organ in a small Austrian church was broken. The priest Joseph Mohr took the words to a carol he had written in 1816 to his friend Franz Gruber and asked him to create guitar music for the carol so the children would have a song to sing for the Christmas Eve service. Thus came about the legend of one of the most poignant of our Christmas songs. Actually, the organ probably was not broken, and Mohr may have just wanted a new carol for the children, but no one can deny the absolute beauty of the gentle carol about Jesus’ birth. Did you know “Silent Night” has been translated into 44 languages and is often sung a cappella? Or that the song was sung simultaneously in English and German by troops during the Christmas truce of 1914? Just imagine being on that terrible battlefield and hearing the sweet sounds of this beloved song drifting out of the trenches. John McCutcheon did a haunting musical presentation of this incident and has a children’s book and CD called Christmas in the Trenches (CD J MCC Avoca) telling more about what happened that cold, frosty night. It reminds us that even in the worst circumstances, the spirit of Christmas lives in all of us.
May each of you have a warm, happy holiday season. Enjoy the music of the season, and remember our service personnel serving in the military all around the world.
Note: “Christmas in the Trenches” is also included on the albums "Water From Another Time" and "Live at Wolf Trap" (both CD MCC Main). Several years later, Garth Brooks recorded a song about the same incident.