The time before Christmas usually found me wrestling in my mind. Year after year I decided that commercial Christmas would take second place. When the time came, I could not be sure which Christmas would win my time and attention most – religious or social.
As a parish priest, I found myself preoccupied with both spiritual and seasonal: meetings to attend, shopping to be done, gifts to be organized, cards to be written and mailed, parties, trees, lights, greens, poinsettias…and scrambling to put a fresh homily together for the big day or night. Personal reflection and prayer too often slipped through the cracks.
Since retiring, the pressure has more or less vanished. Now I enjoy seasonal events with family and neighbors, get out to a concert or two with friends, read something lifegiving and uplifting, spend some choice time with people, drop in on a few elderly neighbors whom I haven’t seen out and about lately.
Reading, reflection and prayer are taking their rightful place at last. I’ve time to go back in time, very far back, to Christmasses long past. Maybe I’ll borrow from the library and browse leisurely through an old and worn copy of Dickens’ Christmas Carol while enjoying some good Christmas music. Gregorian chants for the season, like ‘Rorate Coeli Desuper’, I find to be really in the Advent mood.
Tchaikovsky’s ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ from the Nutcracker created a nice fireside mood last year. And why not again? The ‘Pastorale’ from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio gets you right into the season on Christmas Eve.
A lovely surprise from tough old Franz Liszt is his gentle ‘Christmas-Tree’ suite, which he played for his little grand-daughter and a few friends on Christmas Day 1881 to create a sense of the shepherds around the manger. It’s a piece for listening to when the evening comes and the busy day is hushed and you want to unwind and refocus.
For some reason I like the image of the shepherds at Christmas. It has been a long while since I listened to Berliotz’ ‘The Shepherds Farewell’ to the holy family as it leaves the cave for Egypt. For me it’s one of the most touching pieces in his ‘Childhood of Christ’ Oratorio. And then let’s not forget a chorus or two from the ‘Messiah’ for old time’s sake.
Christmas music that conveys a feeling of hope and joy, and a quiet awareness of the miraculous, never fails to get my attention during these final days before the feast arrives. There is really no end to fine seasonal sounds to get you into the mood that’s right for you.
Fr. QQ 12/7/17