What’s your favorite Christmas carol?  “Do You Hear What I Hear”? “Frosty the Snowman”? “O Little Town of Bethlehem”?  Maybe that Mariah Carey tune that seems to be on every playlist and every department store soundtrack? A strong candidate for my favorite would be “Silent Night,” which was written and first performed 200 years ago this Christmas. That is a lot of silent nights!

There are a number of stories about the creation of the carol. All that is known with certainty is that sometime before Christmas 1818, a young priest named Joseph Mohr from Oberndorf, Austria, approached Franz Gruber, schoolmaster and organist for the nearby village of Arnsdorf, with a request that he compose a melody for a poem he had written called “Stille Nacht.”

The resulting carol was included in the Christmas mass in Oberndorf on Dec. 24, 1818, performed by Mohr and Gruber, with Gruber providing the accompaniment on his guitar. The rest, as they say, is history, and “Stille Nacht”—”Silent Night” in English—was on its way to becoming the most popular Christmas carol ever written.

It was declared an “intangible cultural heritage” by UNESCO in 2011, recognizing its extraordinary cultural significance.  The song has been recorded by numerous singers and groups from every music genre, and it is sung in dozens of languages. The English version sung by Bing Crosby is the third best-selling single of all time.

The first verse is the one most familiar to us, especially the middle couplet:

Silent night, holy night!

All is calm, all is bright

Round yon virgin, mother and Child.

Holy Infant so tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace

Sleep in heavenly peace

In the second verse the Christmas story is told in the middle four lines:

Silent night, holy night!

Shepherds quake at the sight

Glories stream from heaven afar

Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!

Christ the Savior is born

Christ the Savior is born

And in the third verse, the affirmation of the wonder that is Christmas:

Silent night, holy night!

Son of God, love’s pure light

Radiant beams from Thy holy face

With the dawn of redeeming grace

Jesus Lord, at Thy birth

Jesus Lord, at Thy birth

With just a few days until Christmas, perhaps it is not too late to reset the soundtrack. Jingle Bells can be pushed aside. I’m making room in my inner playlist for the promise and hope of a silent night.