DAY 34: “O Holy Night”

“Do you think that when God has a purpose for something He will see it through? I think so!”

“O Holy Night” has become one of the most treasured Christmas Carols of all time. But do you know that the carol was once banned by church leadership?  It’s true! If it wasn’t for the common people, this beautiful carol would have faded into obscurity. Here’s the amazing story behind this powerful song!

In 1847, a wine merchant in France by the name of Placide Cappeau was asked by his parish priest to write a poem for the upcoming Christmas Eve service. On a long carriage ride to Paris, he pictured himself as a witness to the actual birth of Jesus Christ. What he imagined in that moment flowed through his pen and became the poem “Cantique de Noel” (song of Christmas). Cappeau had captured the moment through the words, but needed the right music to make it soar. He had a friend by the name of Adolphe Charles Adam, a trained classical musician whom he asked to write the music. There was only one glitch… Adolphe was not a Christian… he was Jewish!  Adolphe accepted his strange request and began at once to compose a tune that would bring the words to life. It was a perfect marriage of words and music, and it was performed for the congregation on Christmas Eve. The French loved the song and it was an instant hit!

Unfortunately, Cappeau’s atheist and anti-clerical views grew. It was also discovered that Adolphe Adam was not of the Christian faith. The Church leadership in France quickly banned the song from their liturgy. However, the song was so well loved and received the French would not let it die.

Ten years after the song was composed, John Sullivan Dwight, (an American abolitionist), heard the carol in French. He was deeply moved by the words of the song, especially the final verse. The original in French said

“The Redeemer has broken every bond/He sees a brother where there was only a slave/Love unites those that iron had chained.”

John Dwight decided to freely translate the French version of the song. He switched a few things around (keeping the same meaning) and made an English version. This is the version we sing today. The original line about oppression is translated as we know it to be:

“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.”

Dwight brought the song to the United States and it quickly became popular before and during the American Civil War.

And now the end of the story. It has to do with the invention of the radio. On Christmas Eve 1906, a former colleague of Thomas Edison, Reginald Fessenden, was experimenting with a microphone and a telegraph. He played Handel’s “Ombra mai fu” on his phonograph. He then picked up his violin and began playing “O Holy Night.” He finished by reading Luke 2 (the story of Christ’s birth).

Wireless operators on ships in the Atlantic were stunned as they heard what was the very first AM radio broadcast ever! Think about it… the very first AM radio broadcast ever was about the birth of the Messiah through song and scripture — how awesome is that! God told the Christmas Story through the first snippets of modern technology. He loved us so much that He not only sent Jesus in the form of a baby, but also told the story to the world through the first radio broadcast ever!

This pretty much sums up “O Holy Night.”  It was written by a wine merchant, set to music by a Jewish composer, banned by the Church, kept alive by the French, adopted by an American abolitionist, broadcast into the world through invisible radio waves, and continues to be sung throughout eternity.  Wow… Do you think that when God has a purpose for something He will see it through? I think so!

That is what God has planned for each one of us! We are here for a reason. We have a purpose and a destiny that only He can help us fulfill. As we sing “O Holy Night” this Christmas, let us remember the hope we have in the birth of the Messiah. He will finish what He has started and it will be glorious!

“Fall on your knees, O hear the angels voices.

O night divine, O night when Christ was born,

O night divine, O night, O night divine!”


Mama Swan