Sounds of the Season


My boyfriend prefers not to listen to Christmas music before Christmas Eve; he thinks that songs about Christmas should be reserved for Christmas proper. But, I cannot help myself. I love the carols, the canticles, even electronic jazz piano versions of classic favorites. This music is our common holiday language. How many songs (beyond such bar favorites as “I Will Survive” or “Livin’ on a Prayer”) do so many people know by heart and are willing to sing loudly and without self-consciousness in a room full of people?

There are many fantastic songs of the season, secular and religious, and my favorites are the ones that are thick with theology (especially in their rarely sung third or fourth verses): The First Noel; The Holy and the Ivy; Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming; Joy to the World. Sometimes these songs carry an instructive air; they tell us what we believe. Other times they are solemn and devotional, allowing for us to retreat inside ourselves and examine our own notions of what it means that God was born human. This music to me is a method of meditation, a reminder of the constant presence of something, of a faith in a miraculous, wonderful, and downright unbelievable event. The music takes us there. It takes us to the annunciation, to the manger, to epiphany and the coming of the wise men. The best songs even take us into the hearts of the kings, the shepherds, the angels, the holy family.

J. Chris Moore, in a gorgeous choral arrangement of Four Canticles for Christmas reminds us of the humble and glorious first moments of the Christ child’s life. Listening to the fourth canticle, “The Worlds Rejoice”, I am left speechless by its precise and reverential description of the wonder of the birth:

The night softly envelops her as she sits quietly.
Angels whisper their delight. The leaves create a lullaby.
The earth holds her breath.
A child.
Peace has come to a troubled place.
And the worlds rejoice.

Music is a kind of poetry, able to capture in the harmonious combination of words and notes what cannot be captured by words alone. And perhaps these songs are not the most historically accurate; perhaps they often represent older theological ideas or take literary license with biblical passages. But they are a holiday ritual, and singing them is a type of homage paid to the wonderful, to the miraculous, to the mysterious.

Rebecca Curtin is dreaming of a warm Christmas, and can’t wait to hop a flight from Boston to spend the holidays with her family in San Diego. Her Christmas music playlist is already programmed on her iPod for the long plane ride.

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