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January 17, 2019

Samantha's Chronicles: Switching gears


What’s your favourite Christmas carol?” I ask, abruptly changing the subject.

“What?” the prude asks. “How do you change gears from wanting to bang me to what Christmas carols I like?”

“Technically, you would be the one doing the banging, not me,” I respond. He smiles and I repeat the question. “Tell me your favourite carol.”

“I don’t know… Silent Night, I guess,” he responds, rolling his eyes. “Why?”

“Ah, Silent Night. Do you know that the Bing Crosby version of that carol is the third best-selling single of all time?” 

“No, I didn’t know that.” 

“A young priest, Father Joseph Mohr, wrote the lyrics of the song Stille Nacht in 1816. He was based in St Nicholas parish church in a small village in Austria.”

The prude pulls a packet of cigarettes out of his pockets and slowly lights one, inhaling deeply. I continue.

“He asked the local schoolmaster and organist to compose the melody and they performed it together during the Christmas Eve Mass.”

He lets out a stream of smoke. “You seem to know a lot about it. Is it your favourite, too?” he asks.

“Mine is ‘O Holy Night’,” I tell him. “It is the Solemn Hour, which reflects on the birth of Christ.”

He looks at me impatiently. “And Silent Night doesn’t?”

“I didn’t say it doesn’t, I just prefer this carol.” I continue. “On Christmas Eve, 1906, the Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden broadcast the first medium-wave radio programme, which included him playing O Holy Night on the violin.” 

“Really?” he asks. “I suppose that makes it the first carol ever played on the radio?”

I nod. “It was composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem Cantique de Noël or Minuit, Chrétiens. In English that’s ‘Midnight, Christians’ by a wine merchant and poet, Placide Cappeau.”

The prude looks impressed with both my French accent and my deep knowledge of the origins of these carols. The reality is that in my line of work, I always have bagfuls of trivia to dish out and it comes in handy from time to time. I pick up my phone and turn the recorder off ensuring I have saved the audio. He already incriminated himself earlier, after all. He is still smoking his cigarette, blissfully unaware of the recording I now possess. I quickly Google the French poem with an English translation and hand it over to him to read.


Midnight, Christians,
It is the solemn hour
When God as Man descended to us
To efface the stain of original sin
And to end his Father's wrath.
The whole world trembles with hope
On this night it is given a Saviour.
People, on your knees, await your deliverance!
Christmas! Christmas! Here is the Redeemer!
Christmas! Christmas! Here is the Redeemer!
The Redeemer
Has broken all bonds:
The Earth is free and Heaven is opened.
He sees a brother where once there was merely a slave,
Love unites those once fettered by iron.
Who shall tell him of our gratitude?
It is for us all that he was born,
That he suffered and died.
People, as you stand, sing of your deliverance!
Christmas! Christmas! Sing of your Redeemer!
Christmas! Christmas! Sing of your Redeemer!


“Very interesting,” says the prude, “I would say that the melody is the most gripping thing about the carol, though.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” I respond. “Hear it in any language and it grips you. The Andrea Bocelli version is haunting, in a good way.”

I’m met with a blank look. He clearly has no idea who Bocelli is. Strange. He prides himself on culture, this one.

“Do yourself a favour and Google it. It’s beautiful. And his version of Silent Night isn’t too shabby, either,” I say.

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