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Andy Sullivan: Against the Grain

This week, I bring you Oh, you didn’t know: Christmas Edition.  We begin with the classic song “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”.  Only an icon with Garland in her name could’ve pulled off this Christmas song miracle.  Even before she got involved, however, the song almost never came to light at all. 

During a 1989 interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, late songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine described not being able to make the carol’s tune work.  After days of trying, Martin said he “threw it in the wastebasket”.  Even with the salvaged melody, the first draft was deemed a bit too blue for Christmas.  The original line was “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas/It may be your last/Next year we may all be living in the past.  Pop that champagne cork/Next year we may be living in New York…no good times like the olden days/happy golden days of yore/faithful friends who were dear to us/will be near to us no more”.  Uplifting, isn’t it? (

“O Holy Night” had its origins in mid-1800s France.  The song stirred a lot of controversy in the church to the point where it was banned.  When asked to pen a poem for his parish’s Mass that Christmas, composer Placide Cappeau thought about the birth of Jesus as cataloged in the Gospel of Luke as he wrote the lyrics. 

He enlisted the help of his Jewish friend Adolphe Charles Adams to aid in the composition of the music.  The song was initially titled “Cantique de Noel”.  Although the church in France initially accepted the carol, Cappeau was later swayed by socialist propaganda and walked away from his faith.  The church in France condemned the work due to this. 

Nevertheless, the lyrics and music made its way to America through abolitionist John Sullivan Dwight.  He changed some of the lyrics slightly.  Dwight particularly identified with the third verse which spoke about breaking the chains of slavery and seeing every man as our brother. 

The song reflects on the night of Jesus’ birth, as catalogued in Luke 2:4-12.  “O Holy Night” reminds us that Jesus was born in a manger.  Through his humble beginnings, we remember to love mankind through Jesus’ example.  We fall on our knees in awe and worship him.  And we recall the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus underneath brightly shining stars.  The same stars that pointed to the Savior of the world on that beautiful, holy night.  ( article: What is the meaning and story behind “O Holy Night”. Article writer: Hope Bolinger.


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