The lyrics were written by Joseph Mohr two years prior. The melody was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf. Before Christmas Eve in 1818 Mohr brought the words to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the church service. Both performed the carol during the mass on the night of December 24.
The carol has been translated into about 140 languages. It was sung simultaneously in French, English and German by troops during the Christmas truce of 1914 during World War I. It was one carol that soldiers on both sides of the front line knew.
Below are some youtube links to a few different versions of the song, including a version by Nana Mouskouri in the original language, a version by Lisa Bryce in both English and German, and a version by Enya performed in the Gaelic language. Enjoy.