Our little town had its Christmas tree lighting last week. As I walked along main street, listening to brave carolers striving to sound joyful as the mist turned to freezing rain, and later hail, the sight of the lights instantly filled my mind with scenes from Dickens' A Christmas Carol. There wasn't anything particularly Victorian about the scene, and it's not as if there were any ghosts or street urchins. No, last year I'd walked under these very same lights, face frozen but smiling as I listening to Dickens' words on my iPod. I love it when that happens. I'll see a curve in a road and instantly know what I was listening to the last time I walked there, or hear a bit of a story and know where I was when I first heard it. This doesn't happen when I'm driving; it's something particular to walking and the way it makes me engage with the world around me.
When I hear the first notes of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", I'm instantly transported to the tree lined streets I grew up on. When my friends had been called in for supper, I would go out walking. My mother worked, so my brother and I made our own dinner, on our own schedule most nights. I liked to wander as the sun set, watching the lights come on in neighbors' windows and the sun's last rays stretch over frozen fields. As I walked I sang aloud; there weren't a lot of people around. There was one year that I loved "Winter Wonderland" and joyfully sang all the verses as an endless loop. Another year I loved "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" with its alto friendly notes, but the one that stands out the most is the year of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear". When I hear that song I can feel the acrylic yarn of long outgrown mittens, hear the crunch of ice and snow underfoot and smell distant wood smoke. I sang that song like a prayer, full of longing and wonder.
"Still through the cloven skies they come/ With peaceful wings unfurled/ And still their heavenly music floats/O'er all the weary world"
The bare trees once again sway with the wind overhead and the stars shine painfully bright.
Today I rarely sing as I walk; there are just too many people around. Instead this December I'll be listening to Christmas instead.
- There will be old friends like John Denver's Rocky Mountain Christmas and his album with the Muppets, A Christmas Together.
- The voices I always associate with records lifted reverently from their sleeves: Burl Ives, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and Dean Martin.
- And then newer finds like James Taylor at Christmas, Mary Chapin Carpenter's Come Darkness Come Light , Sting's If On A Winter's Night and the infectiously happy soundtrack from Elf.
Do you have any Christmas favorites? Leave a recommendation in the comments.