Sunday, December 29, 2013

Hanging on to Christmas

The way I see the world, Christmas lasts right through New Year's Day. I suppose one reason I can't let it go is that I'm never quite ready for it, so I spend most of the time before Christmas in a state of denial that lasts right up until December 24.

I'm usually still in bed at 9 a.m. that day when I tune in public radio's Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College in Cambridge, England. The announcer solemnly intones a description of the service, the music, and the scene (it's 4 p.m. and the shadows are lengthening), and then comes the sound of one young boy soprano filling the chapel with the opening of "Once in Royal David's City." I always imagine the chosen boy, nervous beyond anything in his life to this point, in the moments before he sings. And he always sings like an angel. The hymn builds in strength and volume through five verses until the whole choir and the congregation have joined in and the organ has added both bass and treble, and when it all comes to an end you can hear people shifting position, probably from standing to sitting, and someone reads a Bible passage. I often continue listening, but none of the rest has the same impact on me. Christmas has begun.

When I think back to my childhood Christmases, I do remember gathering with the family to open presents, both on Christmas Eve (presents from the family) and Christmas morning (from Santa). It was nice, but I don't recall the glow or thrill that some people report. I never spent time paging through the Sears catalog to pick out a specific doll or dress or toy. My younger brothers were always eager to get on with the opening of gifts. They probably asked for toys they saw advertised on television. One year they snooped around and found their gifts--and thereby spoiled their own fun.

But my strongest Christmas memories begin when I was a bit older. At 12 or so, I began to play the organ for the elementary school girls' choir, and we worked a few Christmas carols into our repertoire. I played throughout high school, and we always sang the 11 a.m. high mass on Christmas Day. I came to love the music, and the performing of it. But the parish men's choir was my favorite; I would stay awake with my radio on to hear them sing at midnight mass. Finally, when I attended my first two years of college in my home town, I got to play for them as well. The music was beautiful, and participating in it was a glorious experience. I'm no longer a church-going person, but that music--a combination of Gregorian chant and lovely classic carols--is at the heart of my Christmas memories. It's why I love the annual Lessons and Carols broadcast and it's why the Christmas playlist on our iPod includes not only Willy Nelson and Barbra Streisand and Manhattan Transfer (and oh so many others) but also classical groups like the King's College Choir.

On Christmas Eve this year, I happened to leave the television running after the 10 p.m. news. NBC began to broadcast a tape of midnight mass from St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. I went to turn it off, but something caught my ear. The choir was singing part of the mass, which I recognized as the Gloria. I didn't think I recognized the version. But suddenly I was singing along. Words and melody came out of my mouth though I swear they weren't in my head. I sat down and watched for a while. The service did not move me. But the music left me thinking about, or more accurately feeling, Christmases past and experiences that were an important part of who I was/am.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this memoir, I try to stay in Christmas mode well after The Day. And so I continue to revel in my Christmas memories and in the warmth of this year's particularly wonderful celebrations. I was planning to tell you about those celebrations today, in this post, but now that I've lingered so long in the past, that story will have to wait.

I hope you, too, have some special memories to warm your heart at what happens, at least here in Minnesota, to be a VERY cold time! 

-- Nancy

P.S. The heart ornament at top is one of a dozen hand-embroidered ornaments made for me by my mother shortly before she died. The tree with green ribbon was made by Jeanie at The Marmelade Gypsy, and the round "Froliche Weinachten" came from Connie at Far Side of Fifty. There's a story behind it


DJan said...

I do see on the weather maps that it's very cold where you are, while we are having rather dreary rain and not much cold. I love your recollections of musical journeys past and present. Lovely! Best wishes for you and your family during this extended holiday period. :-)

stephen Hayes said...

This time of year always sends me down memory lane. My memories are all pleasant ones but it saddens me that this is not so for many people.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Music hardly ever moves me..well Silent Night on Christmas Eve in the candlelight but most likely because I am exhausted and anything will make me cry at that point.
It was interesting to hear what you enjoyed in music.
So good to see the ornament has a home...thanks for the photo.
Stay is very cold up is -31 right now. :(

Jeanie said...

I very much enjoyed reading about your musical memories of Christmas and how much they mean to you. I hope you have joy (and some warmth) in the final days of the holiday season.

Jeanie said...

Hi, Nancy -- thanks for showing my ornament! I loved reading your thoughts about Christmasses past -- and present. I love the Nine Lessons and Carols on NPR, too. Like you, I hold onto the season -- my tree will and ornaments will no doubt be standing long after January 1, although I'll start the put-away process then or soon after. But it is so hard to say farewell to such lovelies that remind us of our past. (If you saw my tree-as-autobiography post, you know we share that!)

I love the hearts your mom made. They are exquisite and I know you treasure them -- and that one day, perhaps ViMae or Augie will have one, too. But only when they are quite old enough to understand!

Unknown said...

Happy New Year Nancy and a belated Merry Christmas. I love dragging Christmas out and this year has been no exception. The saddest part of New Year's Day for me is taking down the tree. It means the season is over and it has been so much fun! Happy 2014!

troutbirder said...

Wonderful memories. Family Christmas presents were opened at my Grandmas house up in Mounds Park and then Santas in the morning at home on Point Douglas Road.

Ms Sparrow said...

We always opened gifts on Christmas Eve and just got up and went to church on Christmas morning. We were never taught to believe in Santa Claus so his arrival overnight wasn't expected. That radio service from Britain sound absolutely wonderful. I think I would enjoy it too.

Lisa @ Grandmas Briefs said...

Oh, the music. I think the memories elicited by the music far outweigh any others for me at this time of year. Though it's not really specific memories, just feelings... and most of the warm and cozy nostalgic feelings from my early years of marriage when the kids were tiny, not from my childhood.

My husband and I had planned to take down all the decorations on New Year's Day but at the last minute we chose to wait until this weekend — because we hadn't had enough enjoyment of it all yet, with such a short time between Thanksgiving and Christmas (and our decorations not going up until Dec. 8).

I wish you and your family great things in 2014!

Deb Shucka said...

This was such a treat to read, even after I'm so done with Christmas the crocuses can't bloom soon enough for me. Music at Christmastime has the same power over me, although I'm not a musical person at all.

California Girl said...

Just took our tree down this weekend. It's a small one now, about 5' so it's manageable. We had 8+ footers for years and they were formidable & took forever to trim & untrim. It's a poignant thing to do every year.

Happy Happy New Year to you & your family!

Daughter Number Three said...

What I wouldn't give to find a group to go caroling with. I think the community aspect of singing, as I remember it from about fifth grade onward in my small town, is my favorite Christmas memory.


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