A brief history of ‘O Holy Night,’ the rousing Christmas hymn that garnered mixed reviews

“It might be a good thing to discard this piece whose popularity is becoming unhealthy,” one early critic wrote.

Twenty-six years ago, George W. Hunt, S.J., then editor in chief of America, wrote that “O Holy Night” was one of his favorites among Yuletide songs, modestly adding: “I’ve sung it countless times in choir (the dull second tenor part).”

Our fond memories of “O Holy Night” are closely associated with the familiar English words translated from the original French by the Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight. Former director of the school at the 19th-century Brook Farm commune in Massachusetts, Dwight witnessed the conversion to Catholicism of a number of his fellow commune members, including Isaac Hecker—later a Roman Catholic priest and founder of the Paulist Fathers, the first religious community of priests created in North America. Continue reading “A brief history of ‘O Holy Night,’ the rousing Christmas hymn that garnered mixed reviews”