O Holy Night, the Song and the Story

O Holy Night as a Powerful Song Illustrating an Unusual Journey

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Despite the fact that O Holy Night can bring tears to the eyes, send chills up and down the spine, and bring Christian believers to their knees or to their feet with applause, the song was the result of a joint effort between two men who, by some standards may not be considered Christian, or even religious.

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Placide Cappeau (1808-1877) was born in France. At eight years old his hand was surgically amputated following a tragic gunshot accident. In spite of Placide's handicap he went on to win awards as an artist and a journalist. In addition, he studied law and followed in his father's footsteps to become a merchant of wines and spirits. Placide was an outspoken socialist with anti-clerical viewpoints. In 1847 while traveling by stagecoach to Paris, Placide penned the words to a poem about the birth of Christ. He wrote the poem at the request of a local parish priest. He called it Minuit Chretien.

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Adolphe Charles Adam (1803-1856) was also born in Paris. His father was a composer and professor at the Paris Conservatoire. Early on, Adolphe proved to have a musical gift. He preferred to improvise rather than to study music. At the age of 18, at his father's insistence, Adolphe agreed to begin taking his music seriously. After graduation from the Paris Conservatoire Adolphe went on to write or co-write more than 50 ballets, operas and musical scores. Adolphe was asked to write a musical score for Placide's poem. The music and poem together were named Cantique de Noel.

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In 1855, a Unitarian minister, John Sullivan Dwight (1813-1893)was America's first influential classical music critic. He translated the carol into English. On Christmas Eve, 1906, Reginald Fessenden, a Canadian inventor, broadcast the very first AM radio program which included him playing a violin solo. The hymn he chose as the first musical piece to ever be broadcast via radio airways was O Holy Night.

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O Holy Night

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend!
He knows our need; to our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever
! His pow'r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow'r and glory evermore proclaim!

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Written by: Connie Ruth Christiansen