Stille Nacht and other carols

‘Silent Night’ and other Carols

It was 1914.  The First World War. A bitter cold winter in the trenches for soldiers on the Western Front. Bleak, with little hope that the fighting would stop over Christmas. 

Then, on Christmas Eve, the English soldiers suddenly heard something familiar in the distance.  The tune was familiar, the words not.  Stille Nacht sung by their enemy, the German soldiers. 

You all know the story, made into advertisements and movies over the years, but still so poignant.  A Christmas truce.

Both sides moved into no man’s land and exchanged small gifts.  As well as this both sides were involved in a football match.  Nobody really knows who won or if the football match actually happened, but one thing had become abundantly clear – even when surrounded by death and despair, peace was still possible – although it was only for a few hours.

And indeed, this is the spirit of Christmas.  Forgiving. Hope. A Saviour.


Father Joseph Mohr wrote the words of Stille Nacht in 1816 and the melody was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, a schoolmaster and organist.  It was first performed in Oberndorf, Austria, on Christmas eve in 1818.  Stille Nacht has been translated into more than 300 languages, some say.

Most people traditionally associate carols with the Christian faith.  And usually when it is a carol, it is a hymn sung during Christmas.  There might be other meanings, but the religious significance is most prominent. Many of these carols’ origins can be retraced back some hundreds of years.

For instance the music for Hark! the Herald-Angels Sing was composed by no other than musical genius, Felix Mendelssohn, and the original words were written by the Charles Wesley, founder (with his brother) of Methodism and hymn writer. 

Another well-known hymn, Once in Royal David’s city, which is always a favourite to open a Carol Service – usually sung by a child – tells the story of Jesus’ birth as it happened.

Top Ten Carols

So which carols are you favourites? I did a small survey among my family and friends and here are the top ten – in no particular order: 

  • Silent Night

The Vienna Boys Choir singing Stille Nacht (Silent Night) on Dec 24, 2018.
  • Angels in the realms of glory (James Montgomery/Henry Smart)
  • Away in a Manger (traditional Normandy tune)
The above is a live recording of Away in a Manger (traditional Normandy tune arr. R. Jacques), performed by the King’s Men, Cambridge – the choral scholars of the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge – during their live broadcast on 23 December 2019.

  • O Holy Night (Adolphe Adam)
  • O come, O come Emmanuel (translation of the Latin hymn Veni, Veni, Immanuel)
  • Carol of the Bells (Peter J Wilhousky/ Mykola Leontovych – maybe technically not a Carol?)
Here Carol of the Bells is performed by LIBERA, an all-boy English vocal group, from their 2019 album ‘Christmas Carols with Libera‘, (Conductor – Robert Prizeman, music – M Leontovych and arranged by – Robert Prizeman)
  • O come all ye faithful (Adestes Fideles, Wade/ Frederick Oakeley.)
  • Ere Zij God (Glory to God) (Isaac Bikkers) This is a traditional Dutch carol translated for American and Canadian Reformed churches that have Dutch roots.
  • God rest you merry, gentlemen (Roxburghe Collection)
  • Once in Royal David’s City (Cecil Frances Alexander/Henry Gauntlett)

Happy caroling.

my name, Ieteke, signed under the blog post withyourcoffee
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