WILLMAR, Minn. (WCCO) — On Christmas Day, there’s barely a sound in downtown Willmar, but the hush is quickly forgotten when you stop by Leo Gruber’s home.
At age 93, he’s quick to grab his accordion and crank out Christmas Carols. But of all the songs he has memorized, one brings him more joy than the rest.
“Something special when Christmas comes, you think about Silent Night,” he said.
German was Gruber’s first language, but music has been his lifelong language. He started playing Silent Night by ear when he was 9 years old, with an accordion he found dumped in an old rock pile outside his family’s dairy farm in Belgrade, Minnesota.
“I heard that and squeezed it out at different keys. My fingers followed the tone,” said Gruber.
But it wasn’t until a little later in life, he learned why.
“My great great great grandfather, he made the song out of a poem, in the late 1700 and 1800’s, you know,” said Gruber, pointing to an old photo of composer Franz Gruber.
You’ll find Franz Gruber’s name next to the music in old hymnals, but Leo Gruber said back in Austria, the song came from a poem written by Gruber’s friend Joseph Mohr in 1818. Mohr asked Gruber to turn it into a song.
“He sang it Christmas Eve in the church you know, that worked so good for the people, they thought they were going to save that song for Christmas Eve, but it went out so loud of the church out all over the world – Silent Night was for Christmas Eve,” said Gruber.
But Gruber has long been convinced that Christmas has always been in his blood “because Jesus was born on Christmas Day, too, I am 93 years old for today,” he said.
A fitting coincidence that Christmas Day is also Leo’s Gruber’s birthday. And now at 93, the father of nine children is now passing the tradition down to his great grandchildren.
“They do it all by themselves,” he said. “They know a song, they can play it.”
You can be sure that Leo Gruber’s home is rarely silent this time of year, with a tune that transcends time.
WCCO-TV’s Lindsey Seavert Reports