On a very silent Christmas Eve in Salzburg, Austria, Father Joseph discovers mice chewed through the bellows in his organ. Flooded water also made the organ parts icy. So, the priest writes a new song on the guitar with the help of a nearby schoolteacher, inspired by a sickly child that he visited the day before. That evening at Christmas Eve Mass, the congregants love the new Christmas hymn and leave singing a joyful song, spreading to singers all around the world.
On a quiet Christmas Eve in 1816 in a church in Salzburg, Austria, it is a silent night for Father Joseph. The day before, he had visited a sick child in the Austrian countryside, reminding him of the Christ child. He prayed for peace and asked God to bless the family and their child amid the snowy winter hillside. A day later, when he tries to play his church organ, he discovers that mice have chewed through the bellows that are used to supply the instrument with wind. Although he tries to fix them, the music is stilled. Water from a nearby river has also flooded parts of the church and damaged organ parts, making them icy. He worries as he cleans up the water and mice droppings in the sanctuary. If he writes a new song, he considers that he could use the guitar instead of the organ for the Christmas Eve service. Then, maybe he could raise money at Christmas Eve Mass to replace the organ for the church.
As he makes his way into his office, he thinks about the sickly baby he had met just yesterday. He sticks his pen in the ink jar on his desk and scribbles a batch of lyrics onto a crumpled piece of paper. He entitles it “My Yuletide Lullaby.” Considering that the new song needs music, Father Joseph runs off to his friend, a schoolteacher, Father Franz, in a nearby village church. Wondering how the music for Father Joseph’s song should sound, Father Franz takes the crumpled piece of paper from Father Joseph and begins to hum a melody while playing the guitar. As Father Joseph paces back and forth in Franz’s home, Franz finally finishes the music to the lyric. Father Joseph thinks the melody is gorgeous, with a tear in his eye. He says that the next time the mice eat the organ bellows in a flood, he’ll just know it is time to write another new song.
At the midnight Mass, worried that the congregation will reject the new song, Father Joseph prays a silent prayer. While some congregants make nasty comments about the broken organ, two families of glovemakers whisper to each other about how thoughtful it is of Father Joseph and Father Franz to write a new song for Christmas. After giving extra Christmas Eve offerings to replace the broken organ, congregants go home in the dark singing the new standard to themselves. As legend has it, the song is only to be sung on Christmas Eve and not a minute too soon, offering a peaceful blessing in tumultuous times. Everyone needs a silent night, but most of all at Christmas.
Copyright 2022 Jennifer Waters