The Story Behind “O Holy Night”
It’s one of the most loved Christmas songs throughout the world, but the traditional song was anything but when it was written in 1847.
Deep in the heart of a small french town lived a wine salesman and poet named, Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure. Placide was not known for his strong church attendance, but the church priest asked Placide to pen a poem for the upcoming Christmas Mass.
While on his way to Paris, Placide began to draw upon the inspiration of the story of Jesus’ birth. By the time he arrived in the capital city, the poem, “Cantique De Noel” had been penned.
Being moved by his own work, Placide thought that his new poem would be even more moving if it was set to beautiful music. However, Placide was only a poet, and by no means a musician, so he asked his accomplished musical friend to help him.
From Jewish descent, Adolphe Adam did not celebrate Christmas, nor did he believe that Jesus was the son of God; but he agreed to compose the music for his friend.
On Christmas eve, the blended work of a poetic wine salesman, and a Jewish musician made its way into a Catholic Mass.
The new song quickly gained popularity throughout the French Catholic churches, but because the song didn’t clearly speak of the birth of Jesus, the heads of the church started a movement to ban the song being sung, and almost succeeded.
Even though the song was absent of any clear religious context and Placide and Adolphe were less than model church goers, the French people continued to sing it at home, and decades later an American writer identified with it.
It wasn’t just the birth of Christ that moved American writer John Dwight to find a love for the song, but Dwight found support in the lyrics for his views on abolishing slavery as well. Pretty soon, the song was popular in America with Civil War Soldiers.
Rumor has it that “O Holy Night” even stopped the fighting between German and French soldiers in the Franco-Prussian War!
And there ya have it. A brief history of the birth of one of the most popular Christmas Songs in history!