Did you grow up listening to Paul Harvey and “The Rest of the Story” like I did? I loved his voice, it was a time-machine we traveled through the radio waves of the broadcast to a different place and learned something new. I usually listened to it at my dads cabinet shop over lunch. We all got quiet while we ate, and the familiar voice of Paul Harvey told us stories and narrated history and the present in a way that gave hope. I loved the stories and waited in anticipation for the familiar ending… “And now you know the rest of the story.” Then came his signature sign off, “Paul Harvey [long pause] Good Day!”.
These days I love Mike Rowe’s more modern pod cast with the same idea, “The way I heard it.” His tag line is, “The pod cast for the curious mind, with a short attention span.” (Hey that’s me!!) If you haven’t listened to it, you should! I promise you’ll learn something you didn’t know and be thoroughly entertained by the the legendary man that not only has a cool podcast, but brought us the show “Dirty Jobs” and encourages searching young people to learn a trade and skill.
Do you love a good story and history lesson like I do? I can’t hold a candle to the legendary Paul Harvey, or Mike Rowe, but I love a good story, so this holiday season that’s what I’m going to do. Tell you a story and maybe you’ll learn something you didn’t know! Please excuse my many spelling errors and punctuation mistakes… I ask this in advance because I know I’ll make many! (Hey, I’m an artist and story teller, and not at all a perfectionist.)
A few days ago I asked a question on Facebook. “What’s your favorite Christmas Hymn, or Carol?” I had almost 100 people answer this question! We all have that song this time of year that is our favorite, that takes us back to a distant memory, or the words are so powerful we can’t listen or sing without shedding a tear or two. My purpose in asking was this blog, and my kids. We took turns singing in front of our tree after we decorated it the other night and they didn’t know nearly enough Christmas hymns (like barely any!). After feeling like a major failure as a parent I decided we’d better start teaching them the best of the best Christmas Hymns and songs. I also wanted to research and learn, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story” because I had a feeling that there was so much more behind these songs of old then we can comprehend. I was right! I can’t wait to tell my kids this one tonight…. read it to your kids too if you want.
An overwhelming favorite, from that Facebook post question the other day was, “O Holy Night”. This is a song that always gets stuck in my throat and leaks out of the corners of my eyes. I can’t get through it! It’s just powerful, and so big… I can see the angels on that holy night singing “Fall on your knees!” I knew I needed to start here…
Let’s read the words together, or listen below to Hillsong sing it, then I’ll do my best to tell the rest of the story…. for the curious mind… with a shot attention span, of course.
O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices
O night divine!
O night when Christ was born
O night divine!
O night, O night divine!
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
Christ is the Lord!
Their name forever praise we
O night, O night divine!
O night, O night divine!
O night, O holy night!
In 1847, Placide Cappeau was known poet and the commissionaire of wines in a small French town. A local priest asked him to write a poem for a Christmas Eve mass service. Cappeau was shocked by the request, but honored so he wrote the words to “Cantique de Noel” (“Song of Christmas) on a bumpy and cold carriage ride to Paris. He imagined himself as a witness to the birth of the new King, baby Jesus on a clear night where the stars were shining so bright. The inspired words flowed from his quill to the parchment and they were remarkable. He was so moved by his own words God had inspired, and knew he needed to find a composer to do the poem he’d written on that bumpy road justice. His good friend Adolphe Charles Adams, a trained classical musician, came to mind. He probably hesitated a little, because his dear friend Adams was a Jew, and didn’t believe or celebrate the birth of Christ. Would he want to write music for his poem?
Cappeau figured “why not?” and decided to ask anyway because he couldn’t think of anyone more talented regardless of their differences in their faith. Adams, his Jewish friend, though he found the request weird, and didn’t believe the words, happy obliged and went to work writing music for the beautiful lyrics his friend Cappeau had penned. The outcome was remarkable, Cappeau and the priest that had commissioned him to write the poem were ecstatic with the composition put together by Adams and it was sung just three weeks later on Christmas Eve at Church. The French people loved it! It was embraced almost immediately and through the streets the words rang out. The rumor soon spread that the composer wasn’t of the catholic faith and the song was banned from being sung by the church leadership. How can you ban a song light “O Holy Night” though? No one could stop it from being sung outside the church walls and the French people refused to let it die.
Ten long years later the song was still beloved and rang through the streets and in homes every Christmas. A fellow named John Sullivan Dwight, an American abolitionist, overheard it sung and was deeply moved by it’s words, especially the verse that says “Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease.” He translated it to English and took it back to America where the Civil War was in full swing. The North sang it loud, and probably even shouted that special verse as they marched and fought for oppression to cease and the country to be at peace. Rumor has it that the song made it’s way back to the church in France where they must have taken the words to heart as well and decided to let it back in, and accepted it inside their walls, not just in the streets, once again. The French and German war was happening around this time as well, and during a lull in the fighting on Christmas Eve, a French Soldier stepped up from the trenches unarmed and hands raised in praise. At the top of his lungs began to sing the words of this beloved song…his French brothers stood and joined him. The Germans were deeply moved, stepped out of their trenches, and began to respond with Christmas songs as well. This sing-a-long caused a 24 hour truce between sides on Christmas. (Way to go French guy!)
The next part of this story gives me chills….
In 1906, on Christmas Eve, through miles and miles of invisible radio waves a mans voice came through speakers that existed to pick up Morse Code. Men sitting at their desks probably fell over in disbelief! Never before had a mans voice traveled through radio waves. The man was Reginald Fessenden (a former colleague of Thomas Edison) and he was reading the story of the birth of Jesus from Luke 2. He was experimenting with a microphone and telegraph, not even knowing, for sure, if his voice was being broadcast. Wireless operators around the world at newspapers and ships were stunned and probably shouted for everyone to stop what they were doing to hear in amazement what was happening! It was magic! No one had ever heard a person through the radio before this moment. Fessenden finished reading Luke 2 picked up his violin and started to play a beautiful and beloved Christmas tune that was written by a commissionaire of wines, composed by a non believing Jew, banned from the church but sung loudly anyway, borrowed by an inspired American abolitionist, and sung in the French trenches during the war with Germany, causing everyone to pause, because after all we are all brothers … “O, Holy Night” played softly and perfectly through the waves, and heard around the world, on the very first radio broadcast Christmas Eve.
I don’t have a cleaver sign off (yet anyway…) like Paul, or Mike, but I hope you liked my version of this story. I’ll being you another one soon! I hope the next time you hear this song, “O, Holy Night” you’ll relish in the inspired words, and remember where it came from. Have a beautiful day!