How a French atheist and an anti-American ended up creating a classic Christmas

Origin stories have become an issue this year. Also against-the original story motion, or rather, conservative campaign to undo any lessons in history dealing with slavery or white hierarchy. Between the two, it seems like a perfect time to look at the origins of one of those Christmas songs that became so popular this time of year, the million-dollar soundtrack. Omicron Super extensive shopping expeditions.

For example, do you know the person who wrote “Jingle Bells” in 1857, James Pierpont, despite coming from a Famous family based in Boston Abolitionists, raised to be a fervent separatist and unionist — and the first live performance of “Jingle Bells” may have been by a white performer wearing a black shirt? (Also, Pierpont’s grandson is J.P. Morgan, so he’s also responsible for your late fee checks.) Contrast that guy with Benjamin Hanby of Ohio, who is also the son of purists. abolitionists, who worked with his family in the Underground Railroad, and who wrote “Top Housetop“In 1864.

And then “O Holy Night.” What is now considered the Christmas standard includes lyrics originally written by an atheist French winemaker, music composed by a French Jew, and English translations. by an American abolitionist. It was banned for a time in France before becoming an anti-slavery anthem in America in the 1850s.

It all started in 1843 or 1847 — with some differences in years — in Roquemaure, a small town in the Rhône valley region. Placide Cappeau, who followed his father into the liquor business, is also known for his poems. Although a critic of the Catholic church, Cappeau was asked by a local priest to write a few stanzas to commemorate the town church’s newly refurbished organ. He is said to have written the lyrics of the song while being transported to Paris for a business trip, along with the bible Luke’s gospel is an inspiration. On the advice of the same rabbi who had commissioned him, Cappeau completed his work—later titled “Minuit, Chrétiens,” or “Midnight, the Christians”—for Adolphe Adams, a composer of some famous. Adams, of French-Jewish descent, arranged the music, and the new song was named “Cantique de Noel.” The song will be released to the world, with opera singer Emily Laurey at her belt singing the lyrics, in Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at Roquemaure Church.


Although “Cantique de Noel” would quickly become a French Christmas favourite, it was later denounced by the French Catholic church – a consequence that is reported to have resulted in Cappeau becoming the an atheist and socialist, along with the discovery that Adams was a Jew, not a Christian. A bishop. reported to have been removed The song seems to have a “lack of musical taste and absolutely no religious spirit.” There is also some objection to Cappeau’s overt anti-slavery lyrics in the third verse, which is perhaps made clearer by his emerging political outspokenness.

It should be recalled here that in this day and age, France is still stealing blacks from Africa as part of the transatlantic slave trade, although it will definitely abolish the practice. 1848. At that time, an estimated 1.4 million people were arrested and sent to French-dominated places – including but certainly not limited to Guadeloupe, Martinique, and above all, Saint-Domingue or aka Haiti – and was enslaved under brutal and often deadly brutal conditions. In fact, France was the only country to end slavery, in 1794, due to its defeat by black Haitian warriors, only to restored it in 1802, courtesy of Napoleon. So much for liberté, égalité, fraternité.

In any case, “Cantique de Noel” will cross the Atlantic to reach John Sullivan Dwight, a white American abolitionist, Unitarian minister, musician and classical music enthusiast, who published a magazine called Dwight’s Music Magazine.


Thomas Ryan / Wikimedia Commons

In 1855, Dwight translated Cappeau’s lyrics, paying particular attention to the third verse. A pretty direct one Translate French words are below:

Christ overcame all obstacles:

The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.

He saw a brother there who had only one slave,

Love unites those to whom iron has chained.

Who will tell Him of our gratitude,

For all of us

He was born,

He suffered and died.

Thus, these words Dwight transformed to keep the poetic in place while preserving the original meaning:

Indeed He has taught us to love one another;

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

The chains He will break, for slaves are our brothers;

And in His name, all oppression will cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in the chorus of gratitude lift us up,

Let us all praise His holy name.

Dwight titled his translated verse “O Holy Night” when he published it in periodical music of 1855. It seems to have become a hit in America, gaining popularity among abolitionists during the Civil War. Even when the song was banned at home, it became a Christmas theme, and a protest song, thousands of miles away, in America. It became part of the broader American Book of Christmas Songs.

It is also part of radio history. On Christmas Eve 1906, Reginald Fessenden, an inventor who had worked with Thomas Edison, is said to have played “O holy night“In the first radio session that involved music and voice.

There is also a story, sometimes told of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and sometimes of the Great War, of how German and French troops left their trenches to sing “O Holy Night” together. in an impromptu Christmas truce. It’s almost certainly apocryphal, but it’s certainly a pretty groundbreaking song for the time, from start to finish. How a French atheist and an anti-American ended up creating a classic Christmas


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