Worldwide Circulation

“Silent Night” was sung for the first time on Christmas Eve, 1818, in St. Nikola's Church in Oberndorf and soon thereafter in neighboring choirs. A manuscript discovered in 1995 drafted by Joseph Mohr in the early 1820s confirms this fact. The song spread outside Oberndorf thanks to the organ builder Mauracher, from Zillertal, who repaired the organ in Arnsdorf in 1821 and built a new organ in Oberndorf four years later. He is credited for bringing the song back with him to Zillertal. The well-known singing families of Rainer and Strasser soon added the song to their repertoires. They were glove-makers and merchants who sold their goods at markets and trade fairs in Germany.

In 1831, the Strasser family sang “Silent Night” at the Advent market in Leipzig, where the publisher Friese heard it and subsequently published the first print in 1832 as an “authentic Tirolean folksong”! Soon it appeared in protestant songbooks, where it spread quickly across Northern Europe.
 
The Rainer singers- then already “world-famous”- brought the song across the Atlantic on their extended tour of North America. There, they first sang “Silent Night” in 1839 on the steps of Trinity Church on Wall St. in New York. From there, the song began its “triumphant procession” around the world. Christian missionaries and emigrants also contributed significantly to its worldwide circulation.

But no one knew anymore who had actually composed the song! So, in 1854, the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm IV commissioned his royal choir to research the origin of his favorite Christmas song. They asked at St. Peter's Stift in Salzburg, as they suspected the composers Michael Haydn or Mozart to be potential authors of the song. At that time, Franz Xaver Gruber's youngest son Felix sang in the choir there and suggested his father. Gruber then penned the “Authentic Origin”, in which he described the song's historical origins. Years of litigation finally resulted in legal recognition: Joseph Mohr as songwriter and Franz Xaver Gruber as composer of “Silent Night, Holy Night”.