Monday, December 17, 2007

Stille Nacht - Silent Night

The origin of the Christmas carol we know as Silent Night was a poem that was written in 1816 by an Austrian priest called Joseph Mohr. On Christmas Eve in 1818 in the small alpine village called Oberndorf it is reputed that the organ at St. Nicholas Church had broken. Joseph Mohr gave the poem of Silent Night (Stille Nacht) to his friend Franz Xavier Gruber and the melody for Silent Night was composed with this in mind. The music to Silent Night was therefore intended for a guitar and the simple score was finished in time for Midnight Mass. (From

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

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

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 "

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cantique de Noel - O Holy Night

"O Holy Night" remains one of the world's most beloved Christmas carols, with uplifting lyrics and melody. The lyrics were written by Placide Cappeau (1808-1877), a resident of Roquemaure, France (located a few miles north of the historic city of Avignon). Cappeau was a wine merchant and mayor of the town, as well as an occasional writer of poetry. Known more for his poetry than his church attendance, it probably shocked Cappeau when his parish priest, shortly before Cappeau embarked on a business trip, asked him to pen a poem for Christmas mass. In a dusty coach traveling down a bumpy road to France's capital city, Cappeau considered the priest's request. Using the gospel of Luke as his guide, Cappeau imagined witnessing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Thoughts of being present on the blessed night inspired him. By the time he arrived in Paris, "Cantique de Noel" had been completed.

Moved by his own work, Cappeau decided that his "Cantique de Noel" was not just a poem, but a song in need of a master musician's hand. Not musically inclined himself, the poet turned to one of his friends, Adolphe Charles Adams, for help, when he arrived in Paris. The son of a well-known classical musician, Adams had studied in the Paris conservatoire. Adams was at the peak of his career, having written his masterpiece, Giselle, only a few years before, in 1841. As a man of Jewish ancestry, for Adams, the words of "Cantique de Noel" represented a day he didn't celebrate and a man he did not view as the son of God. Nevertheless, Adams quickly went to work, attempting to marry an original score to Cappeau's beautiful words. Adams' finished work pleased both poet and priest. The song was performed just three weeks later at a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, 1847, in Roquemaure.

By 1855, the carol had been published in London, and has been translated into many languages. The best known English translation is " O Holy Night" authored by John Sullivan Dwight (1813-1893), a Unitarian minister, an American music critic and journalist who made his home at the Transcendentalist community of Brook Farm, Massachusetts. Dwight felt that this wonderful Christmas song needed to be introduced to America, and he saw something else in the song that moved him beyond the story of the birth of Christ. An ardent abolitionist, Dwight strongly identified with the lines of the third verse: "Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease." The text supported Dwight's own view of slavery in the South. Published in his magazine, Journal of Music, Dwight's English translation of "O Holy Night" quickly found favor in America, especially in the North during the Civil War. By coincidence, Christmas became a legal holiday in Massachusetts the same year as Dwight published his translation. (Found at

O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt His worth
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder beams a new and glorious morn

Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born!
O night divine! O night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming
Here came the wise men from the Orient land
The King of Kings lay in lowly manger
In all our trials born to be our friend

He knows our need
To our weakness no stranger
Behold your King! before the lowly bend!
Behold your King! before Him bend!

Truly he taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus rise we
Let all within us praise His holy name

Christ is the Lord
Then ever, ever praise we
His pow'r and glory ever more proclaim
His pow'r and glory ever more proclaim

Friday, December 07, 2007

Twas the night before Christmas

Clement Clarke Moore (1779 - 1863) wrote the poem Twas the night before Christmas also called “A Visit from St. Nicholas" in 1822. It is now the tradition in many American families to read the poem every Christmas Eve. The poem Twas the night before Christmas has redefined our image of Christmas and Santa Claus. Prior to the creation of the story of Twas the night before Christmas, St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, had never been associated with a sleigh or reindeers!

The author of the poem Twas the night before Christmas was a reticent man and it is believed that a family friend, Miss H. Butler, sent a copy of the poem to the New York Sentinel who published the poem. The condition of publication was that the author of Twas the night before Christmas was to remain anonymous. The first publication date was 23rd December 1823 and it was an immediate success. It was not until 1844 that Clement Clarke Moore claimed ownership when the work was included in a book of his poetry.

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Thursday, December 06, 2007

little drummer boy

At some point in every Christmas season it happens. I hear the song "Little Drummer Boy."

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.

Inevitably, I get to the second verse become moved by what the song describes .

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That's fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

There is just something that inspires me about this song. I think it's the image of a poor boy coming to Jesus with nothing to offer. Everyone else lays down their finest gifts, yet this boy has nothing to bring to baby Jesus. No gift of his is fit for a King. So instead of a gift, he offers himself. The only thing this young boy knows how to do is play his drum. And while he isn't even very good, he plays his heart out. He plays with all of his heart and all of his soul. And something miraculous happens in the midst of his playing.

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

The crowd that had gathered to see the baby King begins to join in with the music pouring out of this little boy's drum. And when the boy finally lifts his head to see baby Jesus, the boy is rewarded with the greatest gift he could have ever imagined.

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.

The little boy gets a smile from King Jesus. A simple smile. But that smile speaks a thousand words. It was as if Jesus was saying that the drumming was the best gift that he got that night. Jesus was more honored by the poor boy who poured his heart out through his drum than all the wealth in the world. The little boy didn't have much to offer. All he had was himself. But he gave all of himself away and received more than he could have imagined.