in the bleak mid-winter

My husband and I took our boy to the symphony last night to hear their Christmas performance. We are not symphony goers and we can’t tell Beethoven from Bach, but we love music. I’ve found it hard to get in the spirit this year and was hoping the outing would help. It did. There is nothing like a chorus of fifty or so middle-aged, predominantly white, tuxedo-wearing men singing with drums and rain sticks a Nigerian song about Bethlehem. There was something about their voices coming together in deep tones chanting “Betelehmu” as two men on either side sang words I could not understand but that moved me. Then in unison they clapped. Why this struck me so powerfully, I cannot tell you. They continued to sing and periodically they would add to the percussion with these precision claps. All evening I had been looking forward to hearing the pipe organ and the next song was just that. I love the way you feel it as much as you hear it. I even imagine I can feel the breath of the pipes coming to me and smell the damp metal smell of the air coming through – just like my flute smelled in junior high. As wonderful as that was, the voices of the men moved me more. I kept trying to place why. The coming together of the sounds? The coming together of white men singing a Nigerian song about Bethlehem was closer. We all stood for the sing-a-long portion. I noticed a couple in front of me swaying as they sang “Winter Wonderland” together. They were young and Asian and living in a city where we seldom see any snow. Yet, they sang it with the longing for the moment that everyone seemed to be singing it with. I never have walked through a winter wonderland, but I’ve always wanted to. I’ve never lived in a time like described in “Sleigh Ride” that looked like a Currier and Ives, and the cynical side of me doubts that those magical moments ever existed. Yet, I crave them. The orchestra moved into Silent Night and ended the night with the Christ portion of the Christmas music. My personal beliefs do not necessarily agree with the theme of the songs or the “reason for the season”. Yet, I sing the songs and embrace them as part of the Christmas experience. All my thoughts coalesced into this, that it is not what we call it. Whether you celebrate it as the birth of Christ or the end of the year or the Winter Solstice, these dark months remind us of our connection, the need to come together as one and celebrate, to light the lights to hold back the night, the cold. We gather and grow wistful for a past that we never had but want to believe is real. We believe in Santa and elves and sleighs and reach out to touch the mystery that we no longer see in our world every day. We reach back to our childhoods and back to when we felt wonder. That is Christmas.


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