My house is filled with Christmas music beginning the day after Thanksgiving or maybe even earlier. I have a wide variety of favorites which resound through my house this time of year. I listen to all kinds of tunes from the gospel music of the Blind Boys of Alabama to Handel’s Messiah. Syncopated rhythms, drums, electric guitars and keyboards of contemporary music as well as the strings, tympani, and horns of classical music: I never tire of any of them.
My favorite Christmas as a child was the year my Grandpa Christ visited us and pretended to be Santa Claus. My sisters and I were in our pajamas, sitting on our bed listening to our father read the Christmas story. We heard the kitchen door open and Santa’s hearty “Ho, ho, ho.” My father insisted we wait until Santa had gone before checked it out. When we finished reading, we ran down the stairs. Santa had eaten the cookies we had left and there were tracks in the snow outside. Grandpa and our mother claimed to have seen nothing. Santa had left my sisters and me identical dolls except they each had hair of a different color. Mine had dark brunette hair, just like mine. Amazingly they all had identical dresses, hand made by our Aunt Ida.
I can only remember that one specific visit by Santa. What I remember even better are the sounds, smells and lights of Christmas. Our emotions and memories are triggered by these senses: the smell of evergreen boughs, our favorite cookies baking, apple cider or cinnamon, the sight of lights on trees and outlining houses, the sound of ringing bells.
The Bible doesn’t actually say that the angels sang to the shepherds. The Gospel of Luke says, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to god in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” Music, however, is a common form of praise in most cultures, so it makes sense to assume that the heavenly host was singing and making music.
Music touches our emotions and reaches inside our hearts. When we are hurting, we hear our despair in the minor chords of sad songs. On the other hand, how can anyone listen to the “Hallelujah Chorus” of Handel’s “Messiah” and not feel the majesty and awe expressed in the music? Can one resist keeping time to a spirited version of “Go, Tell It on the Mountain?”
More than the presents under the Christmas tree, I remember the school and Sunday School Christmas programs and pageants. I remember the lights and the smells and the carols being sung, not by angels, but by the people around me. I remember my father’s sing-song, Norwegian accent when he read the story of Jesus’ birth.
We tend to get caught up on the gifts we feel we need to give to our children and grandchildren and others whom we love. We can easily forget that what they will remember will not be the things they thought they couldn’t live without.They will remember the things that touch their emotions and tickle their senses.
Turn up the music. Choose songs of anticipation, songs of praise. Play music that makes you tap your feet, that vibrates in the middle of your chest and makes you want to dance. Listen to carols, old and new.
Remember the Christmas story with your senses. Make memories that last.
Copyright © 2016 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains