This isn’t my favorite Christmas carol… I’ll visit there next week. However, the lovely Silent Night conjures the season in a way few songs can. Although, despite the stories Mohr & Grubar didn’t perform it for the first time as a result of mice gnawing through the organ reeds. It was a simple song for a community Midnight Mass. Less mythological, and IMHO, more moving is its use during World War I. The underappreciated French film, Joyeux Noël brilliantly retells the story.

Personally, the song is one of those I connect with my Daddy. When you’re a kid, you take polls — OK, I did. You know, what’s your favorite color? your favorite animal? and? and? and what’s your favorite Christmas song? My Dad, who patiently answered all of them, smiled like he did when he was about to start a story, “Silent Night, in German.”

During WWII, my Dad was a brand new father (my oldest brother) who turned down Officer School so he could stay stateside for his family. My brother was desperately ill, so my Dad spent the War experiencing amazing adventures at various Army bases throughout the US. Christmas found him in Georgia guarding German POWs, which he found fascinating. Daddy was insatiably curious, I guess I had to learn it somewhere, and his eager interest quickly made him immensely popular with the Germans. He said they all hated Hitler, were mostly conscripts and loved to talk about the difference in their respective farmlands and airplanes. Anyway, that Christmas Eve the prisoners surprised him with a chocolate cake — they had saved their sugar rations to make it for him. He remembered walking through that soft southern night hearing little groups of the prisoners singing….

Silent Night by Franz Xaver Gruber (music); Joseph Mohr (words)

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!

md madonna

not-so-silent playlist: Ave Maria (my mom loved this — check out the Charlotte Church version); Blue Christmas (I know it should be Elvis — but I love Grover Washington’s cut); Christmas in Kilarney (such a Going My Way moment, and so Bing); Douce Nuit (Kali — great Caribbean vibe); The Friendly Beasts (“I said the dove…” every kid pageant); The Hallelujah Chorus (probably the Mormon Tabernacle Choir take — we went to see the Messiah every year as a child); Hark! the Herald Angels Sing (the best version has to be the sing-along from Charlie Brown); Holly Jolly Christmas (Burl Ives from Rudolph); I’ll be Home for Christmas (Bette Midler — listening to this & watching my Aunt’s home movies from the front in Vietnam); Joy to the World (can anyone sing like Aretha); Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow (try Lena Horne with everyone piled in the car — driving along in a rare Carolina snowstorm); O Holy Night (I’m sure there’s a version from my childhood, but I love the Irma Thomas cut); Once in Royal David’s City (my mom had to hear it at least once a season — Mary Chapin Carpenter); Peace on Earth/Silent Night (Peggy Lee melds the two rather gracefully); Silver Bells (this always conjures Bob Hope Christmas specials — try Asleep at the Wheel); Sugar Rum Cherry (Duke Ellington is just the most creative); We Three Kings (Michael Doucet or the Miracles just rock this minor key thrill); White Christmas (it has to be the Bing-ster) and of course, Silent Night (there’s lots of ‘big’ versions, but the simpler the better — I love Patty Loveless and Mahalia Jackson)

Curiousity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous mind –> Samuel Johnson

Take care,

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