“Busy, Busy, Bees.” Image by ceratosaurr via Flickr

It turns out that I am not a big fan of shopping, no matter how much thoughtfulness I tell myself I’m putting into it, nor of crowded roads, full parking lots, nor the frayed nerves of my fellow humans. And I am really not a big fan of the American advertising machine, which I think has damaged the innate creativity of the average citizen almost beyond repair. So you can understand that I have mixed feelings about Christmas. . What cancels out all that other junk, for me, is the music. I love the way old-fashioned language comes so easily out of our mouths when we sing carols: “Hither, page and stand by me, if thou knowst it telling,” and “In thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.” When else in the 21st century would we use “thou” and “thy,” or turn to someone and say “Hither,” meaning: “Yo, dude! Get over here!” When we sing these songs we are joining our forebears, breathing at the same pauses, hitting the same notes, holding those long vowels as they did at ahhhhhhhhmen. We are embodying our connection to them, which is a rare occasion in times that seem to be wholly tuned to the modern and the very young. .

The other thing I love about the music is the sound of so many throats singing together. The group, the community, raises its collective voice, and it’s thrilling. Everyone is welcome, no one is special, and you don’t have to be a professional to join in. Singing carols, or Handel’s Messiah at a singalong, is for us all—it’s egalitarian. To be in the middle of all that sound is incredibly powerful, and, I think, healing—going straight to what in us needs to be healed.

As someone whose vocation involves standing on stage alone, and who very much likes that focused attention and applause, singing in a group revives me, reminds me that I’m part of something much, much larger than myself. It’s a good metaphor for God or whatever we each believe in.

The words to the songs are part of the package, too. Christmas carols are about joy (“Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere!”) and kindness (“Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in”) Even if you tend to think, as I do, that the story of Christ is a teaching tool rather than a memoir, it is still incredibly powerful to hear that story retold, from all those different angles, in song.

This Christmas I’m avoiding parking lots and stores as much as possible, and going to every musical event I can find: concerts, carol parties, church carol services of every denomination. If I’m lucky, I’ll happen upon a Messiah-singing flashmob. I’ll be singing “The Little Drummer Boy” and “The First Noel” with my friends in the car while we tool around town at night, looking at Christmas lights. I hold in my mind that manger in Bethlehem, so long ago, beneath its unwavering star.

Even if we are not, all of us, faithful, we can still be joyful and triumphant.

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  • Leslie in Oregon November 29, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Yes, Molly, yes! Even if there was no other reason, I would go to church for the opportunity to sing together.