Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht

Grandma stared off in the distance— maybe a sea and lifetime away—as the voices of a dozen Mennonite children angelically sang, “…stille nacht, heilige nacht…” an old German song.

I was one of those children.

Being Mennonite typically translates to an innate musical ability. And since presumably all Mennonites can hold a tune, being in this choir was an honor. But I didn’t know that—this choir was just something “we did.” And I had a crush on Brent Dyke, a cute boy and choir member. So I gladly showed up and learned to sing in German—the routine, and way to pay homage to my Mennonite German(Prussia) heritage.

Actually, eighteenth century (and back) Mennonite’s spoke low-German—a fading and nearly lost language. My grandparents taught us several prayers in this dialect, yet I only recall all the words to a single prayer. It’s too bad we didn’t think to write down the prayers of our ancestors…although there are archives of information stored away at Fresno Pacific, I’m sure they have everything in order.

But as for myself, without easy access, I’ve probably mutilated the words and proper accent of these prayers we once said at Grandma’s house. “Zany Fater, dizzy spacey…”

Yeah, that’s not right… I think it’s supposed to be ”_{something}_ Vater, diese spazie…” meaning “Father God walking with us”.

Even my treasured fragile grammar-books and low-German hymnals dating back to 1805 have no mention of these prayers. Nor any mention of the song the Mennonite Children’s Choir sang at Christmas. It wouldn’t be until some ten more years after the first inscription in my old hymnal that “Stille Nacht” would be composed and heard.

“Stille Nacht” (Silent Night) is my second favorite Christmas song. And there is something so special about it—it has this beautiful melancholy haunt to its tune. I think it strikes a sentimental chord in hearts that many songs lack. It evokes a peace in the trials of life—and that must have been the mood when it was sung simultaneously in French, English, and German by troops during the Christmas truce of 1914—one of the few Christmas carols that soldiers on both sides of the front line knew (from Wikipedia). I bet that moment was beautiful—not a dry eye within a mile.

So I guess it makes sense that I hold this song close to my heart—as many do. The melody, the history, the words, and sentiment. It’s usually in the chaos of Christmas that this song will stop me in my tracks and thoughts, as it transports me somewhere far away—much like the look I saw in my Grandma’s eyes many years ago.

As you go about your Christmas—be it a time of busy-ness or rest—I hope you can find a quiet moment to sit and treasure and reflect while listening to the melody of “Stille Nacht.” May it take you away to wherever this song seems to send everyone. Somewhere sacred, far away, filled with peace that crosses cultures, oceans, heaven, and earth.

Silent night, Holy night…sleep in heavenly peace.

Merry Christmas friends, my heart has been fuller because of you.

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