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Oh Holy Night History and Lyrics

The history of this enduring Christmas carol belies its fundamental beauty. The poetry of the lyrics and the beauty of the melody raise chilling emotions for many people. Like the Star Spangled Banner, it is a difficult song to sing because of the broad range of notes, yet a powerful vocalist can bring tears to listeners.

Inspired by the Gospel of Luke, the poetry of Oh Holy Night was written by Placide Cappeau in 1847 when he was commissioned by his parish priest in Roquemaure, France. The words were set to music by Adolphe-Charles Adam who is best known for composing the score for the ballet Giselle. The song fell into disfavor within the church of France when Cappeau ceased his church affiliations and Adams was rumored to be Jewish. Nevertheless, the hymn endured and went viral as it was translated around the world.

The English translation is traced to 1855 by John Sullivan Dwight, an abolitionist and Unitarian Minister. It is said that the third verse of the lyrics spoke to his view on slavery prompting him to make the translation.

This Christmas carol was featured in the first radio broadcast on December 24, 1906 when Reginald Fessenden from Brant Rock, MA played it on violin. For most Christians, Oh Holy Night represents the true meaning of Christmas.

Oh 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 appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh 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 come the wise men from Orient land
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger
In all our trials born to be our friend.

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.

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