'Oh Holy Night': A poem, a song, promoted by an abolitionist and the first song ever on the radio!

By Kathleen Patterson, Ph.D.

Ever have someone ask you 'What is your favorite Christmas carol?'

I have been asked this forever, and it always seemed that I never really had a favorite....until about three years ago when I absolutely feel in deep love with the Christmas carol "Oh Holy Night."

The song does not begin so well, "Long lay the world in sin and error pining", but then we hear "'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn"—The story of all mankind is here---we are in sin and pining until HE appears and our soul finds its worth. Incredible!

As I began to listen to the words of the carol, the words resonated with me, Wow—He taught us to LOVE one another, His law is LOVE and His gospel is PEACE, Chains shall HE break, the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease!!! Amazing.

Did you know the song was originally a poem written in 1847 by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, a Frenchman. After writing the poem, he asked his friend Adolphe Charles Adams to make it into a song. For varied reasons, the heads of the French Catholic church determined the song was unfit due to its total absence of the spirit of religion and yet the French people continued to sing it. The song was then heard by John Sullivan Dwight who was an ardent abolitionist in the United States---and he provided an English translation that most of us enjoy today.

And if that is not amazing enough, on Christmas Eve in 1906 Reginald Fessenden who was a university professor and former chief chemist for Thomas Edison tried something new.

He used a new type of generator and spoke into a microphone. This was the first time in history that a man's voice was broadcast over radio airwaves. You might be wondering what did he say? Well, he told the story of Christmas, and when he was finished he played the beautiful song "O Holy Night" on his violin making this the first song ever sent through the air via radio waves.

So now, when someone asks my favorite Christmas carol---it is an answer I am ready with now—"Oh Holy Night"! A song that began as a poem, was banished in French churches, picked up by an American abolitionist, the first song on played on radio waves, and now a song dear to me at Christmas time---my favorite carol.

Kathleen Patterson, Ph.D.Professor

School of Business & Leadership
Regent University

Christian Leadership to Change the World