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Silent Night – Shepherds First Made it Known

A guitar song in 1818, a 2 year old poem, an unsolved mystery, and a new word-by-word translation from German.

Christmas comes every year and reset the world’s calendar to Anno Domini. The Mayan calendar rollover comes once like Y2K and may get some in Michigan a day off from school and a visit from the police.

The birth of Jesus got the King of kings, born of a virgin that night, a visit from shepherds who heard the Good News from an angel. Over a year later He was visited by the Wise Men, who had traveled from the East to Jerusalem to find out where the new King would be born.

The local tyrant king found out when they had first seen the star and later murdered all the baby boys under the age of two in Bethlehem and the surrounding area.

I’ve been brushing up on my German lately, after translating the Loreley poem memorized in high school. German-speakers know that the original version of this Christmas carol differs slightly from John Young’s traditional English translation.

They Quaked at the Sight, Then Made it Known

Young’s translation says “Shepherds quaked at the sight.” Doctor and careful historian Luke tells us they were terrified at the sight of a single angel. After worshiping the newborn King of Kings, they also made it known what had happened, as in the original Austrian hymn text.

Many hymns were written with more stanzas than are commonly sung. Parish priest Joseph Mohr’s 1816 poem for Stille Nacht has six; slight wording variations exist for the most common three German verses shown below.

Originally Played on the Guitar

The organ may have been broken on Christmas Eve, 1818, so organist Franz Gruber composed a tune for Father Mohr’s poem that could be played on the guitar. The carol was later made popular by the Rainer Family Singers of the Zillertal in Tirol. They started singing it in 1819, but how the song got from Oberndorf near Salzburg to the Ziller valley over a mountain pass is unknown.

A Mystery to be Revealed in Heaven

Organ builder Carl Mauracher rebuilt the organ in 1825 and may have been the “well-known Zillertaler” who brought the song back to the Tirol for Blasius Wimmer’s 1819 songbook. He repaired the organ in 1821 and rebuilt it in 1825. He may have visited the church in 1819 and took the music over the pass. No one knows if the organ was broken in 1818, but it doesn’t really matter.

Eventually Stille Nacht was translated into more than 300 languages, including at least 26 different English translations. Here’s a new translation for those who don’t know German.

New Word-by-Word Translation

Stille Nacht, Oberndorf, Austria, 1818          Silent Night

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,                 Silent night, holy night,

Alles schläft; einsam wacht                 All’s asleep, lonely wakes
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.        
Only the dear high-holy pair
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,         
Gracious boy with curly hair,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!                
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!                
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,                
Silent night, holy night,
Hirten erst kundgemacht                   
Shepherds first made it known
Durch der Engel Halleluja,                
Through the angels’ hallelujah,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:           
Rings it loud from far and near,
Christ der Retter ist da!                     
Christ the Redeemer is here,
Jesus der Retter ist da!                     
Jesus the Savior is here,

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,                
Silent night, holy night,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht                    
Son of God, oh how laughs
Lieb' aus deinem göttlichen Mund,    
Love divine from thy godly mouth,

Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund'.    Then strikes for us the saving hour.
Jesus in deiner Geburt!                      
Jesus, Lord at thy birth,
Jesus in deiner Geburt!                      
King Jesus, we honor thy birth.

Words: Joseph Mohr, 1816                 Translated word-by-word from German
Music: Franz Gruber, 24 Dec 1818      by Dale Murrish, 2012

 

Frankenmuth – Sometimes Winter and Always Christmas

Those who can’t make it to the original village of Oberndorf on the German border near Salzburg, Austria (where the Sound of Music was filmed and Mozart was born) can always drive north to Frankenmuth, Michigan for a chicken dinner at Zehnder’s or Bavarian Inn.

Outside Bronner's, the well-known Christmas store that’s open 360 days a year, is the lesser known replica of the Oberndorf Silent Night chapel. In 1999 Wallace Bronner presented translations of Silent Night to the Joseph Mohr Symposium in over 300 languages.

Stop and Think Amid the Hustle-Bustle

Christmas is good for everyone. It comes around every year to give us pause. It’s good for atheist merchants who make more profits from Christmas shoppers, for agnostics, Muslims and Jews who hopefully will stop fighting long enough for a Christmas truce.

Christians need to stop and think too. Are we focusing on defending our right to have nativity displays (a worthwhile cause) while not really believing in the virgin birth?

Yes Virginia, there is really a Santa Claus. To paraphrase him, “A Merry Christmas to all (atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jew, Buddhist and Christian), and to all a good night.” The real Saint Nicholas bowed before the King of kings who was really born of a virgin. Do we?

Looking Toward Heaven

When I get to heaven, I’m looking forward to hearing some more Beethoven symphonies now that he has his hearing back, finding out if Handel has composed any new oratorios to rival Messiah, and seeing what new advances doctors have made to maintain bodies that don’t wear out.

I plan to thank the Rainer Family Singers and the Austrian organ builder, if indeed he was the source for the 1819 copy of Stille Nacht they discovered. They also played their roles in spreading the Good News.

Oh, and I also want to get a haircut from Martin Luther’s barber. He might have a long waiting list, but there will be eternity to wait. Maybe he can teach me how to pray better; he’s had a lot more years to practice.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Dale Murrish December 26, 2012 at 03:23 PM
'round yon virgin is shorthand for "around yonder virgin", which was common knowledge in the mid-1800s when John Young translated Silent Night. Yonder means "over there". Many kids (and adults) today don’t understand what they are singing.

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