For people who like to sing, the Christmas season provides ample opportunities. Many of us had our first experiences as children in nursery school pageants, singing our hearts out to an audience of long suffering parents waiting to see their personal child on the stage. The repertoire usually consisted ( and perhaps it still does) of traditional carols such as Away in a Manger and O, Little Town of Bethlehem. Which we had to memorize. I remember one pageant in 6th grade that began with two of my classmates playing Adam and Eve. The pretty girl and “cute” boy got to stand with their heads hung low while the rest of us sang a doleful song off-stage. We still had to memorize it.
Now we shop to the sounds of Jingle Bells at the local drug store. The lack of words allows for random lyrics to pass through shoppers’ minds. Just the other day, I came up with:
Verse: Dashing through store
In a cart with a wobbly wheel
Looking for the $10 grab bag gift
Groaning all the way.
Chorus: O! Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells
Where did they hide the tape?
O what fun it is to score
The very last tin of Danish cookies!
Do you know what you get when you add a shopping mall and the music of Handel’s Messiah?
Yes! It’s the Christmas Food Court Flash Mob, Hallelujah Chorus, uploaded to YouTube in 2010. So far, over 42,778,002 fans have viewed this video – and you can be next. Access it here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXh7JR9oKVE
This is an event worth thinking about. Every Christmas season communities throughout our land hold Messiah Sing-a-Longs. People dig out complete scores of Handel’s Messiah (first performed in 1742) and arrive at a public space to sing the choruses while trained singers do the individual arias. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. Why on earth do people like to sing Messiah? The words? The music? The nostalgia? Yet even in Hawai`i folks attend these official concerts and/or community sing-a-longs as a traditional seasonal ritual. Hallelujah!
Christmas music is not required to be 200 years old. Just this year, 2013, Joseph M. Martin, an actual living composer, published a new Christmas Cantata called Appalachian Winter. It is a charming piece of Americana. Music that has been sung in this country for generations placed together in a new format. Hilo Community Chorus sang it in their holiday concert this past Sunday. For a sampling of the cantata, take this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTg0CTwOlKg
I have one final piece of music to share with you. It has become one of my favorite Christmas carols. Written in 1984, Mary, Did You Know? places the Christmas story in a personal, emotive context. The words written by Mark Lowry and set to music by Buddy Greene underline the timeless quality of the season. Of love, hope, and pain. Many artists have recorded Mary. I particularly like the rendition done by Mary Mattea in 1993, which you can access at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXK50lsrdq4
From majestic oratorios, to simple folk music, to contemporary interpretations, these pieces and hundreds more speak to the cultural importance of the Christmas story.
Do you have favorite Christmas-related songs? Cringing memories of being dressed in an angel costume? Leave a comment.
[Disclaimer: Between the time I uploaded these videos from You Tube and the time you access them, commercials may have been placed before the video. Just another aspect of the holiday season.]
Featured Photo of Advent Wreath courtesy of Micha L. Rieser, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution
Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.
Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.