SILENT NIGHT HOLY NIGHT
by Werner Thuswaldner and Robert Ingpen - Minedition, 2014
ages 4 to 12 years
This is perhaps the most familiar of all Christmas Carols, certainly one of the most beautiful and one of the most calming.
The effect of Silent Night, Holy Night has been felt in homes, churches, even schoolyards around the world and, at least once, it reached onto the battlefields of World War 1.
This is the story of how the Carol came to be - and it's lovely.
In a time of poverty and despair, two young men - a priest and a teacher - recognised the gift that comforting words could be and created a carol that would drift and echo through the ages.
Silent Night, Holy Night does a wonderful job of inviting us into a time and place where the aftermath of war, coupled with a freezing, long winter and unemployment, poverty and grief combined to leave a village desperate and in need of solace. But this was also a time when solace was not brought through economic means. The people are instead lifted by a new song – Silent Night, Holy Night.
Two young men are Joseph Mohr, the priest, who had written a poem which he gave to Franz Xaver Gruber, the teacher and choir director, who had a love for music and composition.
Together they produced a song for their village. The organ in the church was broken, so the song was first performed with a guitar.
This book beautifully evokes the feelings of that night: the impact of the guitar in place of the organ, the hopes of the people, the love of a priest and a teacher, the willingness of a town to take solace in a hymn. Of course, nothing changed in the circumstances of the people but:
"Borne up by the miracle that had come on them that silent, holy night, they walked home through the snow with lighter hearts…”
And the Carol was carried throughout the world.
Truly, this is a lovely book. It’s so hard to recognise the bounty that surrounds us in the midst of all that we want to celebrate and enjoy at Christmas time. This book does a lovely job of providing a moment to pause and consider the lives of others who have struggled and do now struggle.
– It’s a reminder of the wonder and impact of music. We’re so surrounded by music now (another of those bounties) but here is the story of a people who were deeply moved by music that spoke to their hearts in part because it was rare.
– It’s a reminder that ultimately all we can give is ourselves – Mohr and Gruber gave all they had to help their community.
– It’s a reminder of how desperately important peace on both a macro and micro level is – there’s a brief passage about the Christmas Truce as well as the story ofthe village itself.
That all sounds quite solemn I know – and it’s certainly not a frivolous story – but Robert Ingpen’s illustrations do such a beautiful job of showing the life and community spirit of the village that it’s a real joy to read. And if you click here, you'll find the original 1818 words and this image of the original manuscript!:
One more thing: in case it hasn’t shown up on your Facebook feed, here’s a very nice Acapella rendition.