O Holy Night

(by Candace Spencer)

This post is part of a series looking a Christmas carols and worship. Read the introductory post here.

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On Christmas Eve in 1870, a French soldier in the Franco-Prussian war jumped out of his trench unarmed and sang a French carol. A German soldier followed suit with a popular German carol and apparently fighting ceased for 24 hours. That French carol was Cantique de Noel, which would eventually evolve into the carol we know today as O Holy Night.

Cantique de Noel was written by Placide Cappeau de Roque in 1847; he imagined witnessing the birth of Jesus by reflecting on the gospel of Luke. The song (originally meant as a poem) has an incredibly rich and diverse history. It grew in popularity in France but the church condemned the song once they found out the poet had become a socialist and the composer was Jewish. However, the French people still continued to sing it in their homes.  

There’s more to the story of this carol and you can read more here or watch some here.

After researching its history, I was struck by how God used unlikely and scorned people (in the world’s eyes) to create, compose and spread this beautiful song.  

When I sing it...

Tingles. I have a physiological reaction every time I hear O Holy Night. It may be because the high note at the end is almost capable of breaking glass! (I was raised on Mariah Carey’s version and she hits and holds that note for what feels like an eternity!). It may be because it contains childhood memories as it’s my family’s favourite carol. It may be because the music is incredibly beautiful and almost angelic in nature. It may be because I love the imagery of the bright shining stars, the angel voices, the cradle and the chains breaking.

Beyond all of that though this song speaks to me of hope. God showed His incredible heart and immense love for us by sending His son Jesus. Now, in the words of the song, we’re to fall on our knees, praise His holy name and love one another.

A singer’s perspective

(by Jordan Bromhead)

I hazard a guess that this song has been shamelessly belted out during shower karaoke all over the world, especially after the release of Mariah Carey’s version. Those glorious high notes and bathroom acoustics are a match made in heaven and I unashamedly admit to such passionate performances into my toothbrush in front of my imagined audience.

This song is captivating. It pulls you in from the first line, hits you with truths that cut straight to your heart, and leaves you breathless with the heights of its melody. I think it does an excellent job of capturing what that night felt like, the night that the weary world rejoiced in the birth of its saviour.

As a singer, it is a privilege to be asked to sing this song at a church service or carols event. I have found that even if you get on stage with the heart to ‘perform’, when you get to certain parts of this song you can do nothing but worship. The singer becomes smaller as the meaning behind the lyrics and the melody take over the space and the Holy Spirit reaches through the TV or out over the crowd and ministers. I believe the Holy Spirit is in the fibres of this song and transcends changes in popular culture and that’s why it’s my favourite carol.  


O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining, 
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth. 
Long lay the world in sin and error pining. 
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth. 
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, 
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. 
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices! 
O night divine, the night when Christ was born; 
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine! 
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine! 

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming, 
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand. 
O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming, 
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land. 
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger; 
In all our trials born to be our friends. 
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger, 
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend! 
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend! 

Truly He taught us to love one another, 
His law is love and His gospel is peace. 
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother. 
And in his name all oppression shall cease. 
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, 
With all our hearts we praise His holy name. 
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we, 
His power and glory ever more proclaim! 
His power and glory ever more proclaim!