Story Listening: Stille Nacht

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When I learned that I would be teaching German this year, I knew I wanted to tell the story of the Christmas song, “Silent Night.” I first heard the story when I was a little girl. It was one of the songs included in the TV special, John Denver and the Muppets – A Christmas Together. That is still one of my favorite Christmas albums 🙂

I bought a couple of books about the song. They are pictures books that I could also ready to my two boys (see below). But then I did a little research and found that the stories had embellished the truth a bit. But it’s such a beautiful story, that I went ahead and wrote it out as Die Legende von “Stille Nacht”. (Scroll down to read & download the story in German.)

According to the Stille Nacht Gesellschaft (Silent Night Society), the lyrics were written in 1816 by Joseph Mohr in Mariapfarr in the Lungau region of Austria. Two years later Mohr was an assistant priest in Oberndorf. Some say that the organ of the church was broken, so that they needed music for their Christmas Eve service. Whatever the reason, Mohr gave his poem to the church organist, Franz Gruber. For the Christmas Eve service in 1818, Mohr and Gruber led the choir in singing the song, while Mohr accompanied the singing on the guitar.

I called it “Part I” because I would like to add a part about how the song was spread by two singing families (the Strassers and the Rainiers) through Austria to the world. Maybe next year?

And did you know that it is the 200th anniversary of the song?! It was first performed in Oberndorf, Austria in 1818!

Here is the text of the story that I told:

Die Legende von “Stille Nacht”, Teil I

Es war kurz vor Weihnachten im Jahr 1818. Ein Mann saß in der Nicholaskirche in Oberndorf, Österreich. Der Mann hieß Joseph Mohr. Er war Pfarrer in der Nicholaskirche. Pfarrer Mohr war traurig. Die Orgel in der Kirche war kaputt. Am Weihnachtsabend würden sie keine Musik haben. Weihnachtsabend ohne Musik? Unmöglich!

Pfarrer Mohr ging in der Nacht im Wald spazieren. Es war kalt. Der Schnee war tief. Alles war still – ganz still. Der Mond schien durch die Bäume.

Als Pfarrer Mohr ging, dachte er sich ein Gedicht aus. Die Wörter kamen einfach und schnell in der stillen Nacht. Er ging nach Hause und schrieb das Gedicht auf.

Am nächsten Tag ging Pfarrer Mohr zu einem Freund, Franz Gruber. Herr Gruber war Musiker. Er spielte die Orgel in der Kirche. Pfarrer Mohr gab Herrn Gruber sein Gedicht. Er fragte: „Können Sie Musik für das Gedicht komponieren?“ Pfarrer Mohr wollte Musik für Gitarre und zwei Stimmen. Herr Gruber sagte: „Ja!“ und komponierte die Musik.

Am Weihnachtsabend kamen Familien um Mitternacht in die Kirche. Alle waren verwirrt. Wo war die Musik? Warum spielte Herr Gruber die Orgel nicht?

Plötzlich hörten sie eine Gitarre. Es war Pfarrer Mohr! Dann begannen er und Herr Gruber zu singen! „Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht.“ Das Lied war wunderschön. Alle waren glücklich. Herr Gruber war glücklich. Pfarrer Mohr war glücklich. Sie hatten Musik am Weihnachtsabend!

Heute hört man das Lied in der ganzen Welt!

You can download the text in German here: Die Legende von Stille Nacht – Deutsch (Word)

And here is a translation into English here: The Legend of Silent Night – English (Word)

These are two of the books I also used as inspiration:

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  • Silent Night, Holy Night by Myrna Strasser (Zonderkidz, 2004)
  • Silent Night. The Song and Its Story by Margaret Hodges (Eerdmans, 1997)

The second book also recounts significant stories about the song, such as when it was sung during World War I by German and British soldiers during a Christmas Eve truce. There is a lot that could be done with this song!

I did some research online to find more of the historical facts:

I told the legend in grades 3 & 4. After I finished, the children were eager to sing the song, too. I prepared the German lyrics on three pages, so that they could see them well.

You can download the PDF file of the song here: Stille Nacht Lied beibringen – GitA

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