A curious thing, that one of the most beloved carols was written by an anti-clerical atheist. And the original lyrics, while they seem pretty pious by modern standards, were apparently quite the controversy. Yet, as I come home tonight from a carol service in a local church, “Oh Holy Night” was the stand-out performance sung by a soloist and drawing the most emphatic applause of the night.
For all that I love this song for its captivating enthusiasm and hopeful vibes, it's a song that gives me a strong dissonance whenever I hear or sing it, also, because I am not at all Christian and never will be. I don't object to Christianity, but it feels strange to be singing a hymn of praise to a god I have no interest in.
What does inspire me is human curiousity, our yearning for knowing and making and bettering ourselves. And, as we're talking about the night, that makes me think about how the stars and their movements were one of the earliest inspirations to mathematics and science. Yet, the sky also inspired the first major religions, which were in large part responsible for the delay and destruction of knowledge and science for generations to come.
Even when the “First Modern Scientist”, Galileo, advanced his theory of heliocentrism, he was suppressed cruelly by the church and put under arrest for the rest of his life after being forced (under threat of execution) to recant.
Yet for our enthusiasm for space, when some of our first cosmonauts and astronauts went out there, they returned with maybe a greater impression of the Earth than the sky. After all, from orbit we can see the stars a little better, but the thin shell of live that we inhabit a lot better. And some of them have had choice words about how we have greater things to focus on than the petty conflicts we allow to rule us.
It was with all this in mind that I wrote a set of alternative lyrics to this beloved Carol - reclaiming and surpassing the brazenness of the original lyrics by the atheist original author, but trying to focus on the positive, the transformative, and the beautifulness of human curiosity and striving. I do drift into hopeful fantasy at the end, I hope you'll forgive me. We still have time to make it happen, after all.
These lyrics can be used under the Creative Commons Attribution, Share-alike license, version 4.0 or later. Please feel free to use them but let me know if you can! If you like this song enough to sing it a few times, you might even consider buying me a coffee.
I may later record myself singing this, I'll probably make a separate post if I do.
Oh Holy Night, those stars that, brightly shining,
Divine appeared to our earliest gaze.
Watching the world, in firmament suspended,
Their timeless forms seemed us stories to tell.
Of heroes bold, of steeds and game abounding,
Of Deities who stole the world as their domain.
We read their creeds, those oracles and tyrants!
In night divine, oh night, when gods were born,
Oh night divine, oh night, oh night divine.
Eyes cast above, their nature someday finding,
Through artful lens, lead by generations’ toil,
Placed there our world, in unimagined vastness,
Our star of dawn one in boundless array.
No gods or kings, their prayers and vows supernal,
Could bear that sky, and come away unscorned.
And yet it moved, its revelations dauntless,
Of night divine, a night, that beckoned forth.
That night, divine! Oh night, oh night divine.
Rending the sky, on plumes of fire ascending,
Our earthly witness beheld it at last.
There lay the world, in firmament revolving,
And it appeared we might now know its worth.
No gods or portents sky thereafter yielding,
The Earth a common heritage for all.
We saw our need, our universal purpose,
In night divine, this jewel, on which we fly.
Oh night, divine, Oh night, Oh night divine.