I’m staying in my old bedroom at my parents’ for Christmas. Mom has a box in here with old Christmas movies, music and books. At the top of the pile I found some old carol song books. Our local newspaper, the Alberni Valley Times, used to publish these each year, but now have closed their doors.
My Grandma also saved these so that we could sing together as a family. In the traditional Danish way, we’d have our dinner on Christmas Eve. After the rice pudding and the dishes had been cleared away, Grandma would bring out the coffee and cookies and then the song books. She insisted that we sing before opening any of the gifts beneath the brightly glowing tree. Even though some of the other kids were probably feeling impatient to get to those gifts, I loved this part of our celebration. I can still see Grandma sitting there by the tree in a pretty blouse, singing carols with glistening eyes. Usually my Auntie Carolyn (she was rightly named) and I would keep her company long after the others had stopped singing and were anxiously asking if it was time to open the presents yet.
I’ve always loved carols. As a teen, I joined Pat Miller’s choir. Somehow she took a group of teenagers and coaxed beautiful sounds out of us. I remember how every December we filed into our darkened high school auditorium to the sounds of “Silent Night”, each carrying a single white candle and trying not to burn the hair of the person in front of us, as we made our way through the audience up to the stage for our annual Christmas concert. My favourite part of the evening was listening to the handbell choir perform. One time we were even invited to sing our carols for appreciative shoppers in Woodward’s department store. That all seems to belong to a long forgotten era, in this day of “winter concerts” with songs that wouldn’t dare to offend anyone.
But would people really be so offended to hear carols sung in public? My most recent carolling experience tells me not. Our church was invited by the local business association to send a group of carollers up and down our street in Toronto on a Saturday afternoon. I did not expect the reception we had from the people on the street. Young people taking out their earbuds to listen and capturing us on their cellphones, older people joining in and singing, cars pulling up alongside and rolling down the windows to let the music in. A young woman who requested a carol (as she had never heard one sung live before) was moved to tears as we serenaded her.
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King!”
Carols touch the heart and move the soul with truth. Our own school’s Christmas concert this year was entirely carols and scripture. As I listened to the deep truths sung by young voices, my heart was glad.