It’s Christmas season again, and all the old carols are filling my world with an invasive nostalgia I’ve both both loved and hated most of my life. For me, they’ve represented so much longing and so much hope spread over an underlying pain. But this year, I think I finally understand why.
Growing up for me was pretty much a semi-lethal mix of moments of intense connection and equally or even more intense loss of connection. Like the proverbial little girl with the curl, “...when it was good, it was very, very good, and when it was bad, it was horrid.” Christmas was one of the rare times when the good seemed to stabilize and prevail. We’d make all sorts of lists, treats, and shopping trips, eyes sparkling with excitement, and Mom was happy. That was really the key, though I didn’t recognize it then.
And we went caroling. It was just what we did. She was the orchestrator, and when she created an event, it felt exciting and complete. In the back of our old farm truck loaded with clover-scented hay, we’d nestle down against the cold Montana night while snow like a blue-white blanket softened field and fence. And oh, the stars! They were like a thousand thousand twinkling Christmas lights on a vast black canvas stretched above as we laughed and sang our way down empty country roads, unloaded en masse, and tramped up neighbors’ walks to knock on doors.
“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie,
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by…”
I loved to watch my mother’s joy as she sang with us, she who made this whole experience happen. Oh, and I adored whatever treat the neighbors shared afterwards--cocoa, fudge, or popcorn balls. I reveled in the cold of the wind on my cheeks as I cuddled next to my siblings and later on, next to my sweetheart in the back of that same old truck. Every moment breathed connection, shared wonder, and beauty of dear old songs and familiar harmonies blending as if this was how our everyday life really was.
“Yet in thy dark street shineth
The everlasting light…”
Our voices rang out, sweet sweet bells in the night, our laughter like honey and wine, and every year it was just as magical for me. Between the caroling, classic movies with their I’ll-be-home-for-Christmas vibe, and the excitement of planning and executing the “perfect” gifts for each person, the whole month seemed steeped in connectivity. My mother was at her creative best, and the annual Christmas Eve program we put on for each other was only one step less anticipated than Santa himself. I loved it all.
Are met in thee tonight.”
And when we went caroling, I poured all my longing into those songs at every neighbor’s back door. Joy of the moment. Fear of loss. Hopes for connection. All mingled with my voice and rose as prayers to that Savior whose birth we celebrated: prayers that the heart-healing connection woven into the warp and woof of Christmastime would transfer into the rest of the year with the same solid sustainability. That somehow the joy in my mother’s eyes would remain after Christmas, rather than draining away to the bare survival level of “okay-ness” she maintained for most of the rest of the year.
I don’t need to figure out why it was easier for her to be happy during the Christmas season. That’s her journey. But at last I understand my own why. Why the bittersweetness surrounding Christmas music, and why I was always hoping I could get my kids and hubby to go caroling with me or sit around singing those old sweet songs. Clearly it is not about the singing or the songs. It’s about the connection that always happened as we snuggled down in the sweet-smelling hay on those star-spangled, snowy Montana nights.
“The morning stars together proclaim Your holy birth,
And praises sing to God our King, and Peace to men on earth.”
And here’s the thing I also now understand: I don't need us to go singing door to door to experience that connection. It is enough just to be with the ones I love and who love me. We are always connected, through the good and the bad. It’s all I ever really wanted all those years ago, but didn’t know how to experience. So no, this year, let’s not go caroling. Let’s just let those wonderful Christmas songs play as we experience being “with.”