Holy night

Series of little, and big, miracles associated with famous carol
They were an unlikely pair to have written a famous Christmas carol. Placide Cappeau was far from a regular church goer and Adolphe Adam’s heritage was Jewish.

Yet in 1847 when his parish priest asked Placide, a winemaker by trade and a poet by calling, to compose a poem for the upcoming Christmas Eve mass, he did exactly that. Then, thinking his work, “Minuit Chretien” (Christmas Midnight), would be better set to music, he contacted his friend Adolphe.

Adolphe was a “serious” composer, opera, ballet, pieces like that. But he wrote the music and called it “Cantique de Noel” (Hymn of Christmastime).

Put them together and you have “Oh Holy Night.” It is one of the most beautiful, and popular, Christmas songs, was recorded by Enrico Caruso in 1912, by Jennifer Hudson this year and by thousands in between, including everyone from Bing Crosby to “South Park’s” Eric Cartman.

To say “Oh Holy Night” is a powerful piece of music is to understate its impact. On Christmas Eve, 1871, during the Franco-Prussian War, a French soldier climbed out of his trench, stood and began singing “Minuit Chretien.”

Seconds later a German soldier responded with a hymn of Martin Luther’s. The two warring sides climbed from their trenches and peacefully celebrated Christmas Eve together.

Virtually the same thing happened Christmas Eve, 1914, this time between the British and Germans.

On Dec. 24, 1906, a Canadian genius named Dr. Reginald Fessenden set up a miraculous little machine in Brant Rock, Massachusetts. It was an invention which would send sound waves over existing wireless with such quality they could convey voices and music. In other words, radio.

For the very first sound sent over radio, Dr. Fessenden picked up his violin and played “Oh Holy Night.”

You wonder what the sailors aboard ships in the North Atlantic, the only ones close enough to hear the broadcast, thought. It must have seemed like a Christmas miracle.

And to this day, on Christmas Eve night, it’s hard to look up into a clear, starry sky, think about the holiday and not hear, playing in your head or your heart:

Oh holy night, the stars are brightly shining; it is the night of the dear saviour’s birth...

Merry Christmas everyone!—M.B.

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2009-12-24 digital edition

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