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History and Meaning of the Christmas Song "Silent Night"

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes about spirituality as well as many other topics.


Almost everyone knows the tune and at least the first verse of "Silent Night" because it is one of the most popular Christmas songs. However, some people do not know that the song was originally written in German in 1816 by the young priest Joseph Mohr while he was working at a pilgrimage church in Mariapfarr, Austria.

It was set to music two years later by Franz Xaver Gruber in only one day when Mohr asked him to compose music for his poem to be used at the end of his Christmas Eve message in a village church in Oberndorf, Austria. Even though the song is sung in many places leading up to, during, and after Christmas, it is allowed to be sung in Austria only on Christmas Eve and at no other time.

Although Gruber was an organist, he composed the music for "Silent Night" on a guitar. The song is often played on church organs around the world today.

Popularity of "Silent Night"

The 204-year song is based on a calm and bright silent night when Mary gave birth to Jesus. It has been translated into over 300 different languages and dialects. Because the song was originally written in German, what people sing today is actually a translation of the original song.

During the Christmas truce of 1914, soldiers laid down their weapons, crossed over into each other's territories, played games, exchanged gifts, and sang one of the few songs they all knew. They sang "Silent Night" simultaneously in English, French, and German. That must have been a beautiful sound.

  1. "Silent Night" is easy to sing. The melody is simple with a range that most people are comfortable singing.
  2. The song can be accompanied by three simple chords on a guitar.
  3. The lyrics sound beautiful with or without music. We know that because carolers sing the song acapella as they walk down the streets and go from house to house.
  4. The third-best-selling song of all time features a lullaby-like melody.
  5. The song has a simple timely message of calmness and peace.
  6. The well-written lyrics paint vivid images that people can imagine. Within the song are many visions of a mother who has just given birth, a beautiful baby boy, shepherds in a field, stars, angels, and lots of other pictures that captivate the imagination of that silent night when was Jesus was born.

"Silent Night" Recordings

Throughout the years, "Silent Night" has been recorded by over 300 artists including Bing Crosby, Mahalia Jackson, The Temptations, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Michael Bublé, and Taylor Swift. Today, the lyrics and melody are in the public domain. That's why so many artists are free to record their own versions of the song without penalties.

A version of "Silent Night" recorded by Bing Crosby in 1935 is one of the fewer than thirty all-time singles to have sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. "Silent Night" is sung in churches, heard in shopping malls, grocery stores, in Christmas concerts, in Christmas movies, and in school plays around the world.

As you sing or listen to "Silent Night" this Christmas, think back to what happened over 2,000 years ago when Jesus was born on that "silent night" on that holy night in that "Little Town of Bethlehem."

Music and Lyrics of "Silent Night"

Billions of people, including you, still sing some or all of "Silent Night." Even though the song was originally written in six verses, most people sing only three of those original verses, and they are not in order. The three verses correspond with the original 1, 6, and 2.

Verse 1
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!

Verse 6
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!

Verse 2
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!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Sp Greaney from Ireland on December 07, 2020:

Thanks for sharing the history about this song. I never knew the background about how this song came about.