We traveled to Coventry, Rhode Island, last week and spent several hours at the home of some lovely people whom we had never met before in the flesh. One can do that, now, much more than was ever possible with the growth of that thing called “social media”.
We were invited to join them and as many of their friends as would show up after the first heavy snow of the year for an evening of singing carols and feasting in a manner one might read about in a novel by Dickens, or Trollope, or Austen. Everyone from children to folks almost my advanced age joined in, and we sang for the better part of an hour carols old and new in several languages. It was great fun for all, the most we’ve had for a while, wanting only a sleigh ride all the way home to make of it a true Currier and Ives evening. They even served a steaming mug of mulled cider if such was your taste.
There was much calling out of numbers from the specially prepared booklet of carols; favorites were debated, voted on and voiced with enthusiasm and, especially the ones in Latin, German and Swedish, sometimes very amusing fracturing of pronunciation or momentary silence as a phrase sliding by under knit brows, around confused tongues, took place. I sat next to a young fellow whose bass voice was a deep delight to hear rumbling under my old tenor.
My Grandmother Gallaher, from Ireland, used to say we should never arrive as guests at someone’s home with our two arms the same length, and we’ve tried to follow that advice. Our hosts that night must have had advice of a similar kind from their Grandmothers. As we left to go home our hostess presented us with homemade delicacies to enjoy in the weeks ahead. Walking down her steps to our car with our arms more full than when we arrived I said a little prayer of thanks for a wonderful evening; among strangers really whose open hearts and home had been a near occasion of grace gladly accepted.
Why not more of that, I wondered, on the way home?
Yesterday we went to work at the Mall for a few hours, doing what we get paid to do. The work is simply that. The people with whom we work and the customers make it what it is, though, and the thought occurs often it would be just as much fun to do it for nothing. I call it My Very Important Post Retirement Career. I work for Chick-fil-A. All I do is stand in front of the counter and give passers- hurrying-by a little sample of the stuff we cook and sell there. Well, that’s not all. I smile at babies and little children, ask them if they’ve been good, or if their Mommies have before I give them all something. I annoy teenagers, or ignore them with a hard look, and then tease them before they get a sample and a smile. I joke with the guys and flirt with the ladies of a certain age from four to seventy.
And, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas.
Some people answer me with the same words. Not many, but some.
While doing all of that (and it wasn’t really much) I sang some of the songs we’d sung at that gathering. I sang softly, and don’t think anyone else heard me as they rushed past in every direction; as the hum from the Food Court guests got louder and louder; as rock videos on the big screen TVs hung around it kept playing; as the sounds of “Christmas” music down the hall where the work of Christmas took place in deadly earnest added to the chaos of Christmas Coming; the modern Advent preparation…for what. I even sang a line or two in German: Stille Nacht and Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen. No, no one heard. But I wondered what might be the result if they did hear?
Would they join in? Would you?
At one point I walked across the Food Court to the rest rooms. Entering the little foyer like space before the lavatories one could hear what passes for Seasonal Music now that Christmas the Feast is all but gone. Some fellow was shouting a kind of blues tune, repeating a line that went something like, “Santa Claus is coming tonight, yeah!” Whatever needed doing could be done later I decided and executed a sharp about face.
As I was getting ready to leave work a little while after, some of the young people working there wondered if I would be back on Christmas Eve. “Would you dress up as an elf?” I’d have no objection to that was my answer, and thought about bringing along a booklet of carols to sing. No German, though.
But, I’d rather take the day and spend it quietly at home after Mass.
In a couple of weeks when Christmas everywhere else is long gone and Summer has arrived in all the stores I will continue to wish the little ones and the big ones who pass by a Merry Christmas. Then I may sing out. Perhaps some will remember what I said, hear what I sang and wonder why; a small crack will have opened, then…maybe.
I remember singing carols in school and at home when I was a kid. Both Mom and Dad had lovely voices. Those times, as well as the frantic scenes at the Mall yesterday went through my mind mingling with the sights and sounds of the evening “over the hills and through the woods” last week. Two of them seem so right, so homely in the old sense of the word.
Alas, the other seems a poverty. If I was a smarter fellow perhaps something would present itself to me to describe by analogy what I mean, but don’t you all know it anyway? We have spilled out the wine of Christmas..and of most else, too..and replaced it with vinegar and gall. And we have let ourselves be persuaded that it is better drink. And we are wiser, happier to drink it.
This morning as we prayed the office we were offered a number of hymns to sing. One of them is an ancient meditation on the Birth of Christ: “Of The Father’s Love Begotten.” We sang that, but all of then were very beautiful, moving, apt and joyful; though tinged with the truth of that Child’s reason for being here.
Is that why we have rejected Christ Mass; tossed the charity and love central to the feast and substituted a month of Black Fridays?
Here, for your thoughtful appreciation are some truly Christmas hymns, carols; my little homage to the feast and it’s true reason (no German):
That is the English version of Praetorius’ hymn
Here is Silent Night (Stille Nacht):
Now, rest in this:
The lyrics are listed in the remarks. You may wish to read them as you listen.
Merry Christmas From The Ghetto!