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Classic Christmas Carol Silent Night turning 200, third best-selling song of all time

Homage at every turn: The Silent Night Chapel in Salzburg.

CHRISTMAS Eve will mark the 200th birthday of the classic hymn Silent Night.

The origins of the Christmas carol can be traced back to Austria where the song was first performed on December 24, 1818, at St Nicholas’ Church in the quaint town of Oberndorf in Salzburg.

A young Fr Joseph Mohr had come to Oberndorf the year before, and had penned the lyrics to Stille Nacht; however, the track remained lifeless until a local church organist Franz Gruber composed the famous melody.

Perhaps it was his destiny that Fr Mohr would write such a prolific piece of music – the priest had been baptised over the same font as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in Salzburg Cathedral.

Today, the town of Oberndorf is alive with the sound of music, and reverence for Silent Night runs deep in village life. 

So much so that a Silent Night Memorial Chapel stands at the site where the song was first performed.

Nearby, the Silent Night museum preserves the song’s rich history, and Christmas gifts can be posted to, and collected from, the Silent Night Post Office – all of which lies in the Silent Night district of Oberndorf.

By the mid-1800s Silent Night had spread throughout Europe and into Russia. 

It eventually reached the United States, and in 1859, Episcopal priest John Freeman Young, then serving at Trinity Church, New York City, wrote and published the English translation made popular by carollers.

The advent of the recording artist and commercial music proved to be a watershed moment for Silent Night.

In 1935 American singer Bing Crosby popularised the track by releasing it as a single. 

It would become his most successful track of the 1930s, selling 30 million copies worldwide.

In 2018 the song remains the third best-selling song of all-time, eclipsing Gene Autry’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (12.5 million), the Beatles’ Hey Jude (8 million), and Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust (7 million).

Elvis Presley, Andy Williams, The Three Tenors and Andrea Bocelli all recorded versions of the song; however, album sales are pale in comparison to Crosby’s.

In 1942, Crosby recorded the Irving Berlin song White Christmas. 

The track has estimated sales in excess of 50 million copies, making it the best-selling song of all time. 

The track features alongside Silent Night on Crosby’s 1945 Christmas album Merry Christmas.

In the 200 years since Silent Night’s conception, the song has become linked to the Christmas season.  

In 2011 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation declared the song an intangible cultural heritage, cementing its place in the carol book for years to come.

Silent Night

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.

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!

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.

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