I’m chair of our church’s worship, music & communications committee. I love Christmas carols. Combine the two, and, with the cooperation of our good-natured music director, I finagled a Christmas carol sing at our church last night. We had no idea how many would show up, but we ended up with a cozy group of 40 or so in the parlour of the church, chairs surrounding an old upright piano. The singing was enthusiastic, and, if I say so myself, not bad at all (even “O Holy Night” was not painful, mainly due to the skill of our music director who both lowered the key and kept up the tempo).
Our music director offered to bring carol books that he and his wife use in the Guelph Chamber Choir to which they belong. I was stunned when he showed me the books – called Christmas in Song, a picture of a Victorian family on the front cover – and I was catapulted back 45 years to Christmases of my youth. We’d used the identical books every Christmas. And they’re still available.
Our family and my father’s brother’s family would always unite at Christmas; one year at our home, the next at my Auntie Myra & Uncle Everett’s home. We’d have a wonderful meal (my Auntie Myra’s scalloped potatoes were the best). Afterwards, we’d gather around the piano. Auntie Myra was a skilled accompanist to the combined family of 10-12, a group that grew over the years with the addition of the 3rd generation. My uncle and my father were both musically inclined, and would bring out their trumpets for the occasion (I know for my father, it was the only time of the year the trumpet saw the light of day; I suspect it was similar for my uncle). Depending on the musical instrument then being studied by a member of the 2nd or 3rd generation (piano, recorder, whatever), there might be a duet, or even a solo performance.
But always (for me at least) it came back to the group singing. We’d take a stab at harmony (especially my father and uncle), we’d call out a mixture of sacred and secular, we’d sing songs not widely heard, such as My Sheep Were Grazing (warning: audio file), or Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming (which I recall to have been my aunt’s favorite). I remember my aunt cringing (in good cheer, as always) at having to accompany the Twelve Days of Christmas.
I can remember fewer happier or consistent childhood memories. Those Christmas gatherings spanned from my earliest memories in the early 50s, to my young adulthood in the early 70s. I don’t know when the last year of the combined gathering occurred; I know it would have been a day of sadness for me had I known. My uncle died in 1976, my father 4 years later, my aunt in 1992, and my mother this past year. Families grew and dispersed, and began their own traditions. For me, though, looking back through life’s prism, no Christmases afterwards could match the love, the life, the warmth and the connectedness of those Christmases.
Last night’s Carol Sing, I hope, won’t be our last. Maybe we’ll be starting our own tradition that someone blogging in 50 years will remember with fondness. But even if that doesn’t happen, I was grateful for the warmth that I felt last night, a warmth that brought back such wonderful memories.