“Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,” perhaps the most beloved of all Christmas carols, was first heard 200 years ago, on Christmas Eve, 1818, in the Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, Austria. A local schoolteacher, Franz Xaver Gruber, wrote the melody to verses written a few years earlier by the town’s priest, Joseph Mohr. The two sang the new carol with Gruber accompanying on guitar.
The best-known English-language adaptation, “Silent Night,” by the American Episcopal priest John Freeman Young, was published in 1859.
In The Washington Post, Michael E. Ruane retraces the history of the carol:
The carol, as originally sung and played, would have sounded like this:
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Another notable anniversary this year: The centenary of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, introduced on Christmas Eve 1918 in the King’s College Chapel at Cambridge University. Eric Milner-White, dean of the college, recently returned from duty as a British army chaplain on the Western Front during World War I, devised the order of service and wrote its moving Bidding Prayer. The King’s College Choir of Men and Boys was led by Arthur Henry Mann.
The BBC began domestic broadcasts of the service in 1928, and has aired it via the BBC World Service since the 1930s. The network estimates that 370 million listeners hear its broadcasts, along with “countless others in the United States, Australia, Africa and Asia,” Michael White reports in The New York Times: