Tag Archive | Christmas

Ding, dong. Ding, dong.

silverbellsI can’t hold off any longer. One of my personal favorite songs of Christmas is Carol of the Bells. There is something powerful yet simplistic about the music. Although it has lyrics, even without them, this piece is moving in both a literal and figurative sense. It makes you wish you had musical talent and the ability to conduct a full orchestra even though it was originally intended to be sung without accompaniment.

In the early 1900’s, Russian composer Mykola Leontovych created the music for the Carol of the Bells, and Peter Wilhousky added the lyrics based on a traditional Ukrainian folk chant. It’s the repetition of the familiar four-note motif (ostinato motif) that creates the melodic consistency, which serves to imbed it in your mind.  Listen to the instrumental version to see if you don’t agree.

When you listen to the Carol of the Bells sung, it is often difficult to pick up on the words because of the tempo and high soprano voices. Yet the refrain of “Merry, merry, merry Christmas” is easily discernible and a message anyone could embrace. In written form, however, you could see a deeper, more meaningful message, one that is also simplistic yet formidable. (See below)

The lyrics capture the essence of bells ringing out an announcement of great import. Like the melody, the words bring impact because of their consistency and inclusivity. The message is for everyone – young and old, those meek and bold – much like the Gospel itself.  The true point of Christmas affirms Jesus is here, God is with us. He came bringing good cheer (good news) bears the same tidings of the angels on that first Christmas. The refrain of “Merry, merry, merry Christmas” mirrors that of the excited shepherds who couldn’t wait to visit the babe in the manger and share with everyone what they saw. The message does not change. It continues and the bells pound it out far and wide so that everyone has opportunity to respond, just as we do today.

Ok, so now that I’ve thought a little more about the song’s lyrics, I like that version, too.

Carol Of The Bells

Hark! how the bells
Sweet silver bells
All seem to say,
“Throw cares away.”
Christmas is here
Bringing good cheer
To young and old
Meek and the bold

Ding, dong, ding, dong
That is their song
With joyful ring
All caroling
One seems to hear
Words of good cheer
From ev’rywhere
Filling the air

Oh how they pound,
Raising the sound,
O’er hill and dale,
Telling their tale,
Gaily they ring
While people sing
Songs of good cheer
Christmas is here
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas

On, on they send
On without end
Their joyful tone
To ev’ry home

Ding, dong, ding, dong.

Who knew?

Mary kissing baby jesus, dark-hairedDid Mary know?

Looking for something new and fresh for his Christmas choir’s program and considering the talent of one of his church members, Mark Lowry’s pastor asked him to work on this project. Lowry, a Christian comedian, singer and song writer, began the creative process with a series of questions he himself wanted to ask Mary, the mother of Jesus.

As a performer with Bill Gaither’s Vocal Band, Mark traveled via bus with other members of the group from concert to concert. To while away the time, these artists typically wrote music often collaborating with one another. Such was the case when Mark Lowry created the lyrics and Buddy Greene the melody for the now popular song, Mary Did You Know. Although they wrote the piece in 1984, the song did not debut for the public until 1992, and did not hit the charts until 1997 when Wynonna Judd and Kenny Rogers recorded it.

The song’s message causes you to think beyond Santa and reindeer and the pristine nativity pageants we’ve come to equate with Christmas to the real reason Jesus came, to become the Savior of the world. Look at the lyrics for yourself and then click here to sing along. During a hectic Christmas season, the message will brighten your day with truth.

Mary Did You Know?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.

Is there room in the mall?

DSCN1040Ah, the joys of Christmas. You know, making the list, checking it twice then hitting the mall to find that perfect gift for each one on it. This would be no problem if you were the only one shopping, but everyone else is there doing the same thing. And it is often contending with all those other people that robs you of that holiday joy. Sure, your arms are tired and your feet hurt, but they pale in comparison to waiting in long lines and trying to maneuver among throngs of frantic shoppers through narrow aisles and busy walkways and ecalators. What’s even worse is that some of those irritated individuals came with you. No wonder Scrooge avoided the mall. There was no room for him.

Those of the family of David, living at the time of Jesus’ birth, experienced a similar scenario. People from all over, not just their town, converged on Bethlehem to register for Caesar’s tax. They weren’t pleased to add one more thing to their already busy schedules nor did they want to travel so far just to battle the crowds. They needed food and lodging, but as Mary and Joseph soon found out, there was no room for them in the inn. Only a stable offered them shelter from the cold night air, and here Mary gave birth to the Savior and welcomed shepherds who came to see the babe in the manger. The angel’s message and song had prepared their sin-weary hearts. Not only did they worship but they also enthusiastically spread the message to others.

Does it make you wonder what people, absorbed in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, would do if out of the blue an angel (or someone who sounded like one) appeared and just started to sing the true message of Christmas? Would there be room in the mall? Click here to see.

Jingle all the way

Bells have long been used to herald news of significance – signaling warnings, proclaiming glad tidings and calling people to gather for worship services or public meetings. Tracing their use back to earlier times, pagan cultures often used them as part of their celebrations to ward off evil spirits. As time passed, bells have found their way into celebrations for Christmas and songs of the season.

One traditional favorite is Jingle Bells, written by Lord Pierpont in 1850, copyrighted in 1857. Though originally inspired by the Salem sleigh races,* Pierpont later introduced it as a Thanksgiving song to a Georgia congregation where he served as organist. The bright melody and cheerful lyrics brought immediate popularity, and it carried over and became a standard Christmas tune.

As a quick aside, if you ever wondered what “bells on bobtail ring” were all about, they are referencing the sleigh bells that adorned the one horse whose tail had been “bobbed” or shortened to avoid becoming tangled in the reigns. People traveling on foot would not hear a sleigh traveling across the snow, especially at night, and the bells would announce the sleigh’s approach.

Although Christmas is traditionally connected with winter – in our northern climates that equates to snow – and also a heightened sense of fun and laughing, you don’t see much else in Jingle Bells that brings real Christmas meaning to the song. You could think of it as just entertaining, and that is ok. But in another sense, it offers a metaphor of hope, and perhaps that’s why it has gained seasonal popularity.

Most people enjoy watching the snow fall and relish the pristine beauty that covers the mundane and drab winter countryside. Though today thoughts move more to the interruption of life and the work involved to eradicate it. The open sleigh in our song offers an opportunity to travel across its surface and enjoy, rather than curse, the gift.  Perhaps it is good to be reminded that the snow covers even the ugliest of surfaces and transforms them into things of beauty, and isn’t that why Jesus came at Christmas?

*Check out the full lyrics using the link and you’ll understand the connection to sleigh races.

Who would tell lies about Rudolph?

In this age of commercialized Christmases, I thought it might be fun to look more deeply into some of the songs, carols and traditions of the season. I’m not sure how close any of these things will come to the real reason of the season, the celebration of Jesus’ birth, but it may prove interesting. Regardless, these traditions, real or imagined impact our lives, so let’s see where the potpourri of nostalgia leads.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

LITTLE_GOLDEN_BOOK_RUDOLPH_THE_RED_NOSED_REINDEER_CHRISTMAS_FRONT_COVERRudolph’s prominence and popularity may make you think this red-nosed member of the deer family has been around forever, and to the children of today, he has. But in reality he did not appear until Christmas of 1939. Though one account states that Robert L. May wrote the fable to comfort his daughter, Barbara, after the death of her mother and sold the rights to Montgomery Ward Department Stores to pay off the medical bills, this is a stretch of the truth. It would make a great Hallmark movie, but if you’re looking for facts, you’ll need to dig a bit deeper – makes you wonder why someone would lie about Rudolph, but I digress.

According to Scopes, Montgomery Ward tasked May to write the story for the purpose of distributing it to children who visited Santa. As a member of their staff, the rights for the story belonged to Montgomery Ward. Writing in verse and couplets, May did test the story on his daughter to ensure of its appeal to children. Initially, Montgomery Ward compensated him only as their copywriter, but deeply in debt because of his wife’s medical bills, May negotiated with Ward’s president, Sewell Avery, to restore the copyright to him in 1947.  The key to Rudolph’s success came later when May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, crafted the song made popular by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry. (Today’s kids likely never heard of him, either.)

The story about the ostracized reindeer does contain a message of hope for all those kids out there who don’t travel in the popular crowds or are sought out because of skill or beauty. Rudolph had none of this, yet he had a purpose for life that would not surface until the year Santa encountered fog on Christmas Eve. This situation led to Rudolph’s discovery. As lead reindeer, his glowing nose allowed Santa to transport his sack of toys safely and deliver them to all of the good boys and girls around the world. He became a hero.

I guess this does bring us back to the real reason for the season after all. Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness for each person, regardless of their station in life, skillset or outward appearance also indicates He has a unique purpose for each one. Human beings aren’t cookie cutter creatures, and God has a plan for every one. Each one is special, yet all have a choice to follow God’s plan or their own. The story of Rudolph leaves Jesus out of Christmas, but you can gain some measure of truth from the illustration as you watch him wait for his time to shine.

Shopping for gifts in the cold?

In the northern areas of the US, winter is here. Maybe in some areas it’s here with a vengeance, but not yet where I live. Here it’s just cold with a dusting of snow – just enough to remind you that the season has now crossed over regardless of the date on the calendar. For some like my grandson, visions of snowboards, snowmobiles and hot chocolate dance through their heads, but for me, it’s layering just to keep warm. Then there’s the sense of overwhelming that comes with so many things to be done for the holidays. If I let it, it could really get me down.

Should this combination cause your spirit to plummet, just bundle up and go outdoors after dark to see the first tokens of Christmas. The bright and colorful lights are cheery and inviting. If you need a broader smile or even a hearty Ho, Ho, Ho, keep looking. Some people really go all out covering every inch of their home and yard with Christmas memorabilia. Whether you think such displays are way too much or if they bring you great pleasure, either perspective will benefit from these demonstrations. Music is also a fantastic mood changer. Renowned to sooth the savage beast, music is a fantastic and easy-to-access resource to pull you back on track. If you don’t have your own iTunes, you can always fall back to the radio’s Christmas collection. Sing along to obtain the full benefit. Can’t carry a tune in a bucket? Just make a joyful noise and watch your spirit perk.

Although these suggestions may seem simplistic, outward acts in the right direction often pave the way for making a real attitude change. It’s kind of like paying it forward to you. Once your mood shifts from reverse or neutral and begins to move in a more positive direction, you’ll feel better and be better equipped to impact others. For some who may be facing more serious issues because of health, family or finances, their problems are often heightened by cold and the onset of the holidays. Sometimes they need a helping hand and sometimes just a listening ear. Either way you can’t do anything to relieve the situation if you’re down in the dumps. Even if you’re battling any of these things yourself, your positive attitude will provide hope you can share with others as you refocus on the real reason for the season and give a gift of you.

What do we celebrate?

Is it just me or have you also noticed how easily celebrations can get off track and how involvement with the event itself can make you miss the reason for the observance? 

Take Christmas for example. It’s so easy to become distracted with baking, cooking, decorating, shopping and attending holiday functions. We sometimes forget the real reason for the season is Jesus’ birth.  Yet once reminded, we like God’s gift to us in the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger. 

It’s more involved when we think of Easter. When we try to make our way past the baskets, bonnets and bunnies, do we remember that God sent His Son specifically for this resurrection day? His feet once bound with cloths for warmth climbed a hill carrying a cross. His tiny hands once touching blades of straw were punctured by huge nails to bind Him to a cross. He tasted death on that cross to pay the price for sin, but He rose again from the dead victorious over the grave.

And to think, God planned all of this before the creation of the world because He knew all of us would need a Savior. Wow! 

May you enjoy the blessings of Jesus’ resurrection this Easter. This is what we celebrate.