Vienna is beautiful in December. As we walked the snow-covered streets, the white flakes reflected the thousands of transparent Christmas lights into what appeared to be a sea of flickering candles. Carol and I were celebrating the third month of our marriage in the Swiss Temple through the purchase of a Christmas tree for our first Christmas together as husband and wife.
We had spent many Christmases together in past years as we waited for the time when we might seal our love for one another in a temple of the Lord. But that time seemed far distant as a missionary quota delayed ever further the mission that must precede our marriage.
Finally, after three years of college and nearly three years of engagement, the call came to serve in the Swiss-Austrian Mission. Another 2 1/2 years brought the conclusion of the mission, but also a desire to spend a year of musical study in Vienna, Austria. Arrangements were made to have Carol meet me in Switzerland, and our marriage became a reality as we kneeled at the altar in the House of the Lord in Zollikofen, Switzerland — just two hours after my release as a missionary!
Our three months in Vienna had been glorious, even though we were living in what could be termed "blissful poverty." St. Nikolaus had visited us on Dec. 5, bringing a little sack of candy, and we eagerly awaited the visit of the Christ Child on Christmas Eve. And now, as we walked through the snow looking for that Christmas tree, we wondered how our meager funds could stretch to allow a Christmas that might express our love for one another.
Suddenly, there it was, a little green tree barely three feet high, but perfectly shaped. Its $1 price tag left us 75 cents for six candles and 10 balls. As we lighted the last crowning candle, we knew that no other tree could match the beauty of that precious "Tannenbaum.”
For weeks we had been dreaming of spending Christmas in the little village of Oberndorf, Austria, where the sacred carol "Silent Night" had been written exactly 140 years before. As Christmas approached, we realized that this dream was beyond our financial resources. The Christ Child must have been aware of our hopes, however, for Christmas letters from our parents arrived two days before Christmas that contained $50, just enough to pay for the trip across Austria.
Christmas Day found us on the train to Oberndorf. We walked the narrow streets and viewed the old houses, many of which were inhabited by the same families that joined to sing the holy carol “Silent Night” on that Christmas Eve in 1818.
The church in which it was first sung had since been destroyed by a flood, but the humble circumstances of the homes brought ready evidence of the poverty of the people that had led to the events surrounding that sacred night. Mice had eaten through the bellows that provided air to the pipes of the church organ, and Joseph Mohr, priest of the little church, was without music for his Christmas service.
As he had once trudged across the silent, snow-covered hills toward Oberndorf on a mission of mercy to one of his church members, his vision was carried upward toward the star-studded heavens. Could it have been such a night as this that brought the Savior of the world into this life? Could that night have been as silent, as holy as this Christmas Eve?
The words to his poem seemed to pour from him as he wrote them down. He turned to the church organist, Franz Gruber, and requested that his poem be set to music in time for the Christmas service. Herr Gruber worked as if inspired, and before long had composed a simple melody and arranged it for two solo voices and guitar accompaniment.
Dusk was falling as Carol and I walked the same snowy hills traversed by Josef Mohr over a century before. As we approached the memorial chapel, we seemed to hear the countless voices from Christmases past singing those holy German words carried to us by the peaceful, rocking melody that has become one of the most cherished Christmas carols the world has ever known.
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht …
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child,
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Truly our prayers had been answered, and on those cold hills in far away Austria, our first Christmas had been filled with a warmth and love that radiated from the Christ Child himself.
Editor's note: For more than 100 years, the Deseret News has published original Christmas stories, eventually starting what is known as its annual "Christmas I Remember Best" writing contest. This is one of seven stories to be highlighted this holiday season.