In 1843, the parish priest in the French town of Roquemaure asked a local a wine merchant and poet named Placide Cappeau to write a Christmas poem to celebrate the renovation of the church organ.
Cappeau was seemingly an odd choice for this task, as he had never shown any interest in religion. But he obliged and wrote the poem “Minuit Chrétien" during a stagecoach ride to Paris.
A short time later the composer Adolphe Adam set the poem to music and the song became “O Holy Night,” one of my very favorite Christmas carols.
When done properly this song can bring tears to my eyes.
And that’s exactly what happened last week when my sister and I took the train out to Long Island to meet up with our cousin Chris and her husband Art at the Milleridge Inn in Jericho.
In the past we’ve had our Thanksgiving dinner with them at this historic spot, but we decided to take it easy this year and meet up the following week.
It was nice sitting down for a meal at this place when it wasn’t packed to the rafters.
After hours of great food and fabulous company, we decided to take a stroll around the shops that make up the Milleridge Village before getting the train back to New York.
The place was all done up for Christmas and this included a trio of lovely women who sang carols on a small stage.
They had just finished “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” when I showed up. One of the women asked for any requests and when no one said anything, I asked if they knew “O Holy Night.”
“Of course,” one of the women responded, and they promptly did their thing.
It was so delightful to hear these women sing those beautiful words.
In Sin and Error Pining…
I know that the idea of me coming to tears is hardly earth-shattering news, but, honestly, this was really something special this time (as opposed to all those other times).
A number of people in the crowd had walked away by then so it felt like they were singing just for me.
I got all weepy telling Fred the Shrink about it on Tuesday. Being Jewish, he didn’t know the song and asked me to fill him in. So I recited a few lines.
“…a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…”
“So it’s a song about hope?” he asked.
Yes, indeed, and I think that’s why I get so emotional when I hear it.
Christmas can be a heart-wrenching time of the year when we remember the loved ones we’ve lost and look back on our own lives.
Hope can be in awful short supply right about now so the thought of new and glorious morns can do wonders for a battered soul.
Like many beautiful things, “O Holy Night” must be handled with great care and I’ve have heard the song abused something fierce by singers who mistake shouting for emotion.
For years, Paul Shaffer, the bandleader on the David Letterman Show, mercilessly mocked Cher’s rendition of the carol.
My favorite version is by Nat King Cole, who is also one of my favorite singers. When this man says fall on your knees, it’s awfully hard not to genuflect right on the spot.
I always swore I would never listen to anyone else sing it.
But I’m willing to amend that opinion now and tip my hat to three lovely ladies in Jericho.