Five Things To Love About "O Holy Night"


By THE ENTHUSIAST


Wine Does More Than Milton Can

"O Holy Night" (also known as "Cantique de Noël") was composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 as a setting for the poem "Minuit, Chrétiens" ("Midnight, Christians") written by a friend of his, Placide Cappeau. Cappeau’s day job, by the way, was serving as Commissioner of Wines. One imagines that he was besieged with no end of oenophile carolers bellowing out his lyrics in hope of a jam jar filled with Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Sacrée Bleu!

You wouldn’t think that a carol as lovely and uplifting as "O Holy Night" would spark controversy, but, hey, les haineux continueront de détester. Commenting on the French original, the Revue de Musique Sacrée sniffed: "Adolphe Adam’s "Minuit, Chrétiens" has been performed at many churches during Midnight Masses….it might be a good thing to discard this piece whose popularity is becoming unhealthy. It is sung in the streets, social gatherings, and at bars with live entertainment. It becomes debased and degenerated. The best would be to let it go its own way, far from houses of religion, which can do very well without it."

Chains Shall He Break

Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight wrote the English version – as much a reinvention as a translation – in 1855. Dwight was an abolitionist, and the third verse of his new version served as a rallying cry for the North during the Civil War:

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. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, Let all within us praise His holy name.

Radio Days

"O Holy Night" is the first song ever to be broadcast – not just the first carol, but the first song of any kind. Radio pioneer Reginald Fessenden (a Canadian with a bushy white Santa-style beard) played the song on violin before singing the closing verse in a performance broadcast from a 420-foot tower in the seaside town of Brant Rock, Massachusetts on Christmas Eve 1906.

Away In A Manger

Let’s give Cappeau the final word:

Peuple debout! Chante ta délivrance, Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur, Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur!


Get up and sing! What better advice to heed this holiday season?


Number eleven in a series.

11 December 2020


The Enthusiast (offbroadway@outlook.com) is the pen name of critic Michael Collins. He reports back only on what’s good, never what’s bad. He is currently imbued with the holiday spirit.