How Do You Spend the Darkest Night?
The sequence jumps around a lot before I get into the real arc of things. I promise it's all going somewhere coherent eventually.
The other day, a few carolers treated the Eliot dining hall to a rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen":
God rest you merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay, for Jesus Christ our savior was born on Christmas Day, to save us all from Satan's power when we were gone astray. Oh, tidings of comfort and joy...
And more recently, this happened:
Shepherds, why this jubilee? Why these songs of happy cheer? What great brightness did you see? What glad tiding did you hear? Gloria in excelsis deo! Come to Bethlehem and see him whose birth the angels sing. Come, adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the new-born king. Gloria in excelsis deo!
And in both cases (the first in person, the second when I saw it on the 'tube), I found myself following along with the lyrics. Because these are songs that I've been hearing my whole life, and at this point, can probably sing from memory. Even though it's been a long time since I believed the Christian myth.
This year, for the first time I can remember, my family won't be attending Christmas service at the Columbia United Christian Church. And it wasn't until recently that I've begun to appreciate what that annual service has meant to us all of these years, and what my parents saw in that church that I never did, growing up.
The thing about the Christmas service is that it doesn't change. Through two changes of pastor and a change of music director, it's still the same stories, the same songs. The lay readers change (though it's mostly a rotation of the same faces) and the children walking up the aisle to light the altar candles seem like they're younger every year, but there's something comforting about the familiarity. It's not what the words mean; it's that we have words to sing together, and that there's a 'we' to come together as at all. It's not about the stories we tell; it's about the storytelling. And it's not what we're celebrating; it's the joy of the celebration.
There's another holiday tradition that we're missing out on this year. Our good family friends, the desJardin-Parks, have held their annual 'Grinch-a-thon' (a misnomer, perhaps, as it's not a marathon at all, but really a "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"-watching-party) for as long as I can remember. And this, too, hasn't changed much over the years. The same people show up year after year (modulo a few children), our hosts serve the same snacks, and the pre-Grinch movies always tend to be the same classic, cheesy Christmas specials.
And this, too, isn't about the object-level. I mean, "Grinch" itself is a warm-fuzzy, feel-good sort of story: Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, he thought, is a little bit more.
But really, how many times do you need to re-hear that anti-consumerist message? How many times do you need to re-watch "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer", really?
...how many times do you need to get together with friends in a silly holiday tradition that involves tasty food and a tradition of wearing silly socks? Once a year isn't nearly enough.
This post continues -- with a description of the new tradition I did make it to this year -- in A Circle of Light.