Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht has now been translated into 140 languages and in 2011 was declared an “intangible cultural heritage” by Unesco.During the Christmas truce on the Western Front in 1914, it was sung simultaneously by troops in German, French and English, as it was the only carol all sides knew.
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Antiquarians of the period, concerned that the old Christmas traditions were dying out, began to make collections, often giving new tunes to old lyrics.
The most influential of these came in 1871 with the publication of 42 Christmas Carols New and Old by the Rev H R Bramley of Magdalen College, Oxford, and Dr John Stainer, the college organist, and it was specifically designed for use in parish churches.
In all, more than 500 early carols survive, although fewer than a quarter have any music associated with them.