Category Archives: Christmas

Silent Night. The History of a Famous Carol

Silent nightChristmas Eve 1818. The carol “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht” was heard for the first time in a village church in Oberndorf, Austria. The voices of assistant pastor, Father Joseph Mohr, and choir director, Franz Xaver Gruber, rang through the church. accompanied by Father Mohr’s guitar. On each of the six verses, the choir repeated the last two lines in four-part harmony.  A song was born that would wing its way into the hearts of people throughout the world. Now translated into hundreds of languages, it is sung by untold millions every December. From small chapels in the Andes to great cathedrals in Antwerp and Rome.

Though meant for a performance in a church, “Silent Night” was composed for guitar. That is rather unusual for those days. Joseph Mohr’s guitar still can be seen at Hallein’s Franz Gruber Museum.

Today books, films and Internet sites are filled with fanciful tales purporting to tell the history of “Silent Night.” Some tell of mice eating the bellows of the organ, creating the necessity for a hymn to be accompanied by a guitar. Others claim that Joseph Mohr was forced to write the words to a new carol, in haste, since the organ would not play. A recent film, created for Austrian television places Oberndorf in the Alps and includes evil railroad barons and a double-dealing priest, while a recent book by a German author places a zither in the hands of Franz Gruber and connects Joseph Mohr with a tragic fire engulfing the city of Salzburg.

You can read claims that “Silent Night” was sung on Christmas Eve in 1818 and then forgotten by its creators. Of course, the latter are easily discounted by manuscript arrangements of the carol by both Mohr and Gruber which were produced at various times between 1820 and 1855. In this age of tabloid journalism, it’s not surprising that some feel it necessary to invent frivolous anecdotes and create fables for a story that is quite beautiful in its simplicity.

Father Joseph Mohr

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A young priest in Mariapfarr. The German words for the original six stanzas of the carol we know as “Silent Night” were written by Joseph Mohr in 1816, when he was a young priest assigned to a pilgrimage church in Mariapfarr, Austria. His grandfather lived nearby, and it is easy to imagine that he could have come up with the words while walking through the countryside on a visit to his elderly relative. The fact is, we have no idea if any particular event inspired Joseph Mohr to pen his poetic version of the birth of the Christ child. The world is fortunate, however, that he didn’t leave it behind when he was transferred to Oberndorf the following year (1817).

Franz Gruber

gruberOn December 24, 1818 Joseph Mohr journeyed to the home of musician-schoolteacher Franz Gruber who lived in an apartment over the schoolhouse in nearby Arnsdorf. He showed his friend the poem and asked him to add a melody and guitar accompaniment so that it could be sung at Midnight Mass. His reason for wanting the new carol is unknown. Some speculate that the organ would not work; others feel that the assistant pastor, who dearly loved guitar music, merely wanted a new carol for Christmas.

via Silent Night. The history of a famous carol.

This will be my final post on the topic of Christmas music. I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Brad

Different Kind of Christmas

We all have Christmas traditions. Our’s start with food. Linda has a recipe for fruitcake passed down from her grandmother. Our Christmas eve dinner will be tamales smothered in chili. In San Antonio you have two choices: 1) order your tamales well in advance and stand in long lines to pick them up. 2) know someone who makes them by hand. Thankfully, Juan and Milagro have connections. They each brought me two dozen. On Christmas day Linda prepares beef tenderloin steaks with her signature trimmings. The rolls will be “granny’s dinner rolls”, a recipe from my maternal grandmother.

Movies and Other Activities

We squeeze in our favorite movies during the Christmas holiday. Our list includes:

  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • Miracle on 34th St.
  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

We will play games, work jigsaw puzzles, and eat too much candy. Linda and the girls will go on a shopping spree. I will watch football or basketball. However, we just enjoy time together.

A Different Kind of Christmas

Some of us will spend this Christmas without someone who has always been there. I think of mom’s Christmas 2017 without dad. Or my in-laws in Kansas City whose traditions no longer include my mother-in-law who is in memory care.

So today as you enjoy your holiday traditions say a prayer for those experiencing a different kind of Christmas.

Here Comes Santa Claus

Sinter Klaas Comes To New York

St. Nicholas made his first inroads into American popular culture towards the end of the 18th century. In December 1773, a New York newspaper reported that groups of families had gathered to honor the anniversary of his death.

The name Santa Claus evolved from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). In 1804 New York Historical Society member John Pintard distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society’s annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys hung over a fireplace. In 1809, Washington Irving helped to popularize the Sinter Klaas stories. He referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York.

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Gift-giving, mainly centered around children, has been an important part of the Christmas celebration. Stores began to advertise Christmas shopping in 1820. By the 1840s, newspapers were creating separate sections for holiday advertisements. These ads often featured images of the newly-popular Santa Claus. In 1841, thousands of children visited a Philadelphia shop to see a life-size Santa Claus model. Stores began to attract children, and their parents, with the lure of a peek at a “live” Santa Claus. In the early 1890s, the Salvation Army needed money for Christmas meals provided to needy families. They began dressing up unemployed men in Santa Claus suits and sending them into the streets to solicit donations. Those familiar Salvation Army Santas have been ringing bells on the street corners of American cities ever since.

In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, wrote a long Christmas poem for his three daughters entitled “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.” Moore’s poem, which he was initially hesitant to publish due to the frivolous nature of its subject, is largely responsible for our modern image of Santa Claus as a “right jolly old elf” with a portly figure and the supernatural ability to ascend a chimney with a mere nod of his head! Moore helped popularize the now-familiar image of a Santa Claus who flew from house to house on Christmas Eve–in “a miniature sleigh” led by eight flying reindeer–leaving presents for deserving children.

“An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” created a new and immediately popular American icon. In 1881, political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on Moore’s poem to create the first likeness that matches our modern image of Santa Claus. His cartoon, which appeared in Harper’s Weekly, depicted Santa as a rotund, cheerful man with a full, white beard, holding a sack laden with toys for lucky children. Nast gave Santa his bright red suit trimmed with white fur, North Pole workshop, elves, and his wife, Mrs. Claus.

18th-century America’s Santa Claus was not the only St. Nicholas-inspired gift-giver to make an appearance at Christmastime. Similar figures were popular all over the world. Christkind or Kris Kringle was believed to deliver presents to well-behaved Swiss and German children. Meaning “Christ child,” Christkind is an angel-like figure often accompanied by St. Nicholas on his holiday missions. In Scandinavia, a jolly elf named Jultomten was thought to deliver gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats. English legend explains that Father Christmas visits each home on Christmas Eve to fill children’s stockings with holiday treats.

Père Noël is responsible for filling the shoes of French children. In Russia, it is believed that an elderly woman named Babouschka purposely gave the wise men wrong directions to Bethlehem so that they couldn’t find Jesus. Later, she felt remorseful, but could not find the men to undo the damage. To this day, on January 5, Babouschka visits Russian children leaving gifts at their bedsides in the hope that one of them is the baby Jesus and she will be forgiven. In Italy, a similar story exists about a woman called La Befana, a kindly witch who rides a broomstick down the chimneys of Italian homes to deliver toys into the stockings of lucky children.

Source: Santa Claus – HISTORY.com