When I was a little girl, Christmas was still called "Christmas"* in the public school system, and Christmas carols - true Christmas carols, concerning the birth of Christ - were still freely sung. My 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Vankowski, decided that we, her students, ought to have a good working knowledge of Christmas carols, so she set out to teach them to us. Several times a week, during the run-up to Christmas, we would gather around the classroom piano, where she would accompany us as we sang our way through a quite extensive list of songs.
Mrs. V, bless her heart, was not of the wishy-washy sing-the-first-verse-only school. With what I can only admire as a proper respect for the text, she took us through all the verses of every song, over and over, until we could sing them without hesitation and with much joy. ("Remember, it's 'light and life', NOT 'life and light'", I can hear her saying.) And in the process, at least one of her students learned every verse of every one of those carols by heart, and remembers them still.
It's Christmas Eve today. As is our yearly custom, we've just listened to the live broadcast of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge. The dear, familiar scriptures have been read; the carols - some old, some new - have been sung. The congregation has risen, the collect has been said; now for the final, jubilant rendering of "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing". The glorious organ peals out, and a thousand-plus voices soar up through the splendid roof of the Chapel, singing as one to the glory of God.
Far across the Atlantic ocean, in a small Wisconsin village, a blogger sets down her knitting and sings along. Verse for verse, word for word; no booklet or hymnal is needed. This lovely lyric, and many others like it, are part of her oldest memories, and will remain with her when other memories have vanished. They were given to her as a child, and she counts them among her most precious possessions.
Thank you, Mrs. Vankowski. Merry Christmas to you, wherever you are.
And a very merry Christmas to all of you, my dear bloggy friends and readers.
What is your favourite Christmas carol? (Or holiday song?)
P.S. If you would like to listen to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, check your local public radio station. Though the 2012 live broadcast is over, many stations replay the service at some point during the day. You can also hear this year's service at any time during the next 7 days on the BBC World Service - click here for the link.
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*As opposed to "the winter holiday"