Years ago I started listening to the live BBC broadcast of the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols at Kings College Chapel Cambridge via my public radio station. A couple of years ago I tuned it to find my station wasn’t picking up the feed and I was devastated . . . until I realized I could listen to the live stream on the internet. So here I am, in Chicago on Christmas Eve, and thanks to BBC4, I am also present in the worldwide audience for Lessons and Carols yet again, and all is as it should be.
I always get choked up thinking about the boy sopranos as they wait for the nod from the conductor, all (hopefully) prepared for the Once in Royal David’s City opening solo. I wonder though, are they all nervous, or are any of them thinking “There are x sopranos so I have a 1 in x chance of being chosen so I won’t worry about it.” Is it better not knowing, or better knowing it’s not you, or, even better knowing it is you?
I went caroling myself yesterday afternoon for the first time in years. It was a perfect day. Cold enough to be winter (it had been almost 50 degrees the day before), snowing, and intermittently sunny. We had glögwein beforehand and practiced “Baby it’s Cold Outside” and “Christmas time is here” and “Jingle Bell Rock” and other songs that I’m not sure could actually be called carols. I think the only carols we actually sang were “Silent Night” and “Adeste Fideles.”
We sang “O Christmas Tree” to the lonely Christmas trees yet to be adopted from the Christmas tree lot. We sang in the hardware store and the shoe store and the toy store. We caroled for an expat Welshman, and his daughter came out in stocking feet holding a large plate of cookies, shivering but refusing to budge from her hospitable duty until we had all taken one. We got a kick out of singing “Here we come a wassailing” for someone who actually know what wassail was. At another house a Japanese woman giggled with delight and grabbed her camera, having been told people come to your door and sing but never having seen it. She requested “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” and brought us chocolate. We returned cold in body and warm in spirit and celebrated with more glögwein and rum cake.
It’s been a wonderful, creative advent, and I’ve felt the Christmas spirit for the first time in years. I had a run of life trauma around Christmastime for a few years, and, combined with being single without kids, Christmas left me. Well, not Christmas itself, but the trappings of the Christmas that had been traditional in my life left me, and it’s taken awhile for it to come back.
This evening I go to my mom’s house. Tonight I carol and worship at church. Tomorrow I go to my mom’s house, and for one of very few times in life my brother and I won’t see each other on Christmas day. I always woke him up, in person at 4am in childhood, so we could meander past the booby traps to the tree as soon as possible, and later over the phone, telling him to get over to my mom’s place so we could open presents as soon as possible. Last year we got in a big fight and this year my mom figured we should just stay apart. That’s been fine with me up until now, but for some reason, as emotionally distant as we are, Christmas is the one day it feels like he’s supposed to be there. The Christmas spirit must definitely be back.
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