A Hymn To A Hymn

Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford

On Dec. 24, 1818, 182 years ago, Silent Night was first performed in a little village in Austria. CBS News Sunday Morning pays tribute to a venerable Christmas hymn.

It was Christmas Eve and, according to legend, Pastor Joseph Mohr of St. Nicholas Church needed a new piece of music for Christmas midnight Mass, one that could be played on a guitar since the church organ was damaged.

As the story goes, Father Mohr took a poem he had written to his friend, the organist and choirmaster Franz Gruber, who quickly set it to music.

And so it was that at midnight that very night he and Father Mohr led the congregation in the singing of their simple song, "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht."

The carol soon became popular in the small towns of Austria, then in the bigger cities of Europe, and finally came to America in 1839, translated into English as "Silent Night, Holy Night."

It is sung today in at least 300 languages.

The original St. Nicholas Church is long gone now, replaced by a memorial chapel in Oberndorf, built on the site of the main altar. And that chapel has been duplicated in the town of Frankenmuth, Mich..

Wally Bronner had the replica built as a tribute to his favorite Christmas hymn.

And it is there, and in churches like it around the world, that we learn all over again the one part of "Silent Night, Holy Night" that forever remains authentic and undisputed, and that is the great joy people everywhere take in singing it.

All is calm and all is bright for everyone who has ever shared the
song composed by Father Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber, many Christmas Eves ago.

Of all the Christmas gifts ever given, theirs may well be the one that endures the longest: a carol tender and mild that anyone can sing.