The Night Before Christmas
This assembly is taken from 'The Flying Pizza and Other Assemblies' by Alan Barker
by Alan Barker
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To explain the significance of Christmas Eve with reference to the carol ‘Silent Night’.
Preparation and materials
- The words of the carol 'Silent Night' displayed.
- Optional: the carol 'Silent Night' displayed in a number of languages.
1. Introduce the theme by explaining that Christmas Eve (the night before Christmas) is one of the most holy (special) nights of the year to Christians. It’s the time when everyone prepares to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. Final touches are made to decorations, festive food is bought and prepared, and visitors made welcome. Churches hold services late at night so that, when midnight comes, everyone can wish one another a happy Christmas. (Establish where and when such services will be held in your community.) Reflect that Christmas is a very busy time for Christian priests and ministers, not forgetting choirs and organists, who often prepare special music for the celebrations.
2. Almost 200 years ago, in 1818, a young Austrian priest called Father Joseph Mohr was preparing to celebrate Christmas with the congregation of his church. He knew that the church would be packed with people and that everyone was looking forward to the special time that they would share together. But Father Joseph was sad: the church organ was broken and it couldn’t be repaired in time for Christmas. It seemed that mice had eaten some of the leather parts. Father Joseph knew that everyone would be disappointed not to hear the organ play.
What could he do? It was Christmas Eve and the church would seem so still and silent without music. ‘Still and silent’ ... the words kept coming into Father Joseph’s mind. He remembered a Christmas poem that he had written a few years earlier.
3. Father Joseph knew there was no time to waste. Taking the words of the poem from his study, he quickly put on his heavy overcoat, hat and gloves and strode out into the crisp cold morning air. Before long he was at the house of his friend, the musician Franz Gruber, who welcomed him inside. Father Joseph took the poem from his pocket and handed it to his friend. 'Can you help?' he asked. 'The church organ is broken. Could you play your guitar? And could you put these words to music, so that we can sing them together?'
Franz Gruber smiled. He read through the words, picked up his guitar and began to hum a tune. The notes faltered. Franz Gruber stopped, shook his head, and tried again. Father Joseph listened as the words of his poem were gradually woven with the notes of the guitar into a simple but beautiful song.
Soon he and his friend were singing together:
Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht! (Silent night! Holy night!)
4. After darkness fell Father Joseph and Franz Gruber met again as everyone gathered for the first mass of Christmas. Families sat squeezed into the pews of the small church. No one was left out. Together, everyone listened to the story of how Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem, and of how Mary’s baby was born in a stable because there was no room at the inn. As they heard about the shepherds and the angels’ message, the small church grew still and silent.
Then, in the flickering candlelight, the new Christmas song was heard.
Accompanied quietly on the guitar, the soft, deep voices of Father Joseph and Franz Gruber, together with those of the choir, sang a melody that was gentle, like a lullaby, but with beautiful echoes of angel song.
The last notes faded away, and those who were listening felt a deep sense of peace and wonder. The music had helped to make the Christmas story real. This was a really special, holy, night, and one that everyone long remembered.
5. After Christmas, the organ was mended. People were glad. But they were also glad that on the night before Christmas, when the organ was broken, they had been the first to hear the song 'Silent Night'.
6. Explain that so many people liked the song that it was eventually published (printed) and translated into other languages so that on Christmas Eve people and choirs in churches all around the world can enjoy singing the words.
7. Optional: In 1914, almost 100 years after it was written, soldiers fighting one another in the First World War sang the song together in French, German and English. On Christmas Eve this led to a short time of peace. Enemies stopped fighting, greeted one another, and even played football together in what became known as the 'Christmas Truce'.
Time for reflection
Reflect that 'Silent Night' is a song that speaks of the importance of silence and stillness. After all the busy preparations for Christmas, Christians believe that it is important on Christmas Eve to quietly listen to the story of Jesus’ birth, just as the shepherds heard God’s message in the silence of the hills.
Spend some moments in quietness and then sing ‘Silent Night’. A simple guitar accompaniment would be ideal!
Prayer Dear God,
Thank you for the wonder of Christmas. In all the business please help us to take the time to stop and remember the true meaning.