It was Christmas Eve in the Austrian Alps. At the newly constructed Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, a Tyrol village near Salzburg, Father Joseph Mohr prepared for the midnight service. He was distraught because the church organ was broken, ruining prospects for that evening’s carefully planned music. But Father Joseph was about to learn that our problems are God’s opportunities, that the LORD causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him. It came into Father Joseph’s mind to write a new song, one that could be sung without the organ. Hastily, he wrote the words, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…” Taking the text to his organist Franz Gruber, he explained the situation and asked Franz to compose a simple tune.
That night, December 24, 1818, “Silent Night” was sung for the first time as a duet accompanied by a guitar at the aptly named Church of St. Nicholas in Oberdorf.
Shortly afterward, as Karl Mauracher came to repair the organ, he heard about the near-disaster on Christmas Eve. Acquiring a copy of the text and tune, he spread the hymn throughout the Alpine region of Austria, referring to it as “Trioler Volkslied.”
The song came to the attention of the Strasser family, makers of chamois-skin gloves. To drum up business at various fairs and festivals, the four Strasser children would sing in front of their parents’ booth. Like the Von Trapp children a century later, they became popular folk singers throughout the Alps.
When the children- Caroline, Joseph, Andreas, and Amalie- began singing “Trioler Volkslied” at their performances, audiences were charmed. It seemed perfect for the snow-clad region and perfect for the Christian heart. “Silent Night” even came to the attention of the king and queen, and the Strasser children were asked to give a royal performance, assuring the carol’s fame.
“Silent Night” was first published for the congregational singing in 1838 in the German hymnbook Katholisches Gesang- und Gebetbuch fur den offentlichen and hauslichen Gottesdienst zunachst zum Gebrauche der katholischen Gereinden im Konigreiche Sachsen. It was used in America by German-speaking congregations, then appeared in its current English form in a book of Sunday school songs in 1863.
Were in not for a broken organ, there never would have been a “Silent Night.”
From “Come Let Us Adore Him” by Robert J. Morgan