Silent Night: The Story Behind The Song

Posted by Craig Borlase on 26 November 2014

They called it the Great War, and most people believed that the soldiers would be home by Christmas. Nobody dreamed it would take four years and 16 million dead before World War I finally ended. 

Yet that first Christmas did contain a moment that continues to be talked about today, one hundred years on. After yet another day of fighting on Christmas Eve, British soldiers on the Western Front saw their German counterparts light and lift candles into the air. The German soldiers were exposed by the light, their weapons nowhere to be seen, and from their trenches came the sound of a Christmas carol whose melody was profoundly familiar to British ears.

And so, as the Germans sang “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!”, the British joined in; “Silent Night! Holy Night!” they sang. In time, soldiers from both sides emerged from their defences and walked - unarmed - into no-mans land. At any other time it would have been suicide, but this time it was different. This time it was special.

As they stood in the pock-marked earth that lay between the trenches, they sang. Some men exchanged greetings and gifts, others played football. All of them took part in what has to be the most powerful Christmas since the very first one. 

The Christmas Truce lasted until the morning of December 26th, but the power of the moment, and the power Silent Night has lost none of its power. 

Like all the best songs, Silent Night has an enduring power to break boundaries and unite enemies. And this simple song continues to inspire today, leading us to stop a while and remember the powerful truth behind the fact that, “Christ the saviour is born”. That one, simple fact has changed everything.

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