Saturday, December 16, 2006

    Radical Carol

    After just posting about Jackson Browne's radical Christmas carol "The Rebel Jesus," I came across some cool background info at Beliefnet on the creation of the traditional tune "O Holy Night." French in origin, the lyrics of "Cantique de Noel" were written in 1847 by a man who eventually left the Church to become a socialist. The music was written by his friend, a Jew. Although initially a popular carol, once Church leaders discovered the unusual origins of the tune, "O Holy Night" was denounced and deemed unfit for use in church services. Fast forward several years, and American writer John Sullivan Dwight translates the tune into English for a new audience:

    Not only did this American writer--John Sullivan Dwight--feel that this wonderful Christmas songs needed to be introduced to America, he saw something else in the song that moved him beyond the story of the birth of Christ. An ardent abolitionist, Dwight strongly identified with the lines of the third verse: "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." The text supported Dwight's own view of slavery in the South. Published in his magazine, Dwight's English translation of "O Holy Night" quickly found found favor in America, especially in the North during the Civil War.

    See more background here. Sharing this background story would help others to see this traditional tune in a new light and to understand the radical good news it still offers to the world.