Dear Grace Church Family,
As everyone has probably experienced, the secular world usually gets a jump start on Christmas, usually about 6 or 7 weeks ahead of the church. Halloween will pass and all of a sudden, supermarkets and pharmacies will change out their seasonal aisles with Santas and stockings. Radio stations don't even wait until Thanksgiving before they switch to holiday music. I'm pretty sure Black Friday now falls on a Tuesday or Wednesday.
As a kid, I loved that time of year - the insatiable push toward the 25th, that time in the calendar when the early dusk meant that the Christmas lights shone brighter, that sense of anticipation and excitement as the presents began appearing under the tree. The radio stations suddenly transported us back four or five decades, and Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, and the Ronettes would again be in the top 40. It really did feel like "the most wonderful time of the year." But in all honesty, my favorite part of that countdown was the day when we opened our choir folders and saw all of the holiday music for the first time.
Sometimes that day came really early - like the first day of rehearsal. I was in a children's chorus from 2nd through 6th grade, and we diligently started rehearsing the holiday music in September. It didn't matter to me - it just meant that that sense of waiting and wonderment had longer to incubate. Songs like "Lo, how a rose e'er blooming" and the "Hodie" from Ceremony of Carols were rehearsed alongside "Grandma got run over by a reindeer." (Seriously.) I loved them all.
As I got older, that sense of excitement lingered. Some songs faded (I now hate that reindeer song) and were replaced by new ones. And as my life in the church grew more important to me, the pieces we rehearsed for Christmas Eve ("O Holy Night," "A Spotless Rose," "For unto us a Child is Born"...) became my new favorites. For several years, when we lived in Connecticut, the midnight mass was both a liturgical and musical high point of the year for me. I remember wiping tears away one year while singing "Silent Night," accompanied by a solo classical guitar.
I'm absolutely delighted that my life at Grace has continued to give me this blessing, and although I feel somewhat jaded and very much "over" the commercial hype that leads up to Christmas (perhaps nowhere more so than when trying to walk through Herald Square at rush hour), I still get that bittersweet ache when I pull out "In the bleak midwinter" or "Lo, how a rose e'er blooming." Grace Church has introduced me to some new favorites, including "A Stable Lamp is Lighted." Christmas Eve still has that magical reverence, that amazing convergence of joy and melancholy. I suppose that's why we come to this place.
I'm writing not only to share my experience with you, but also to ask you to participate, both as a listener and a singer. Every year, we extend an invitation to anyone who would like to join the choir for Christmas Eve, and all we ask is that you come a few times after church on Sundays, perhaps on one Saturday. You don't need to commit for the whole year - although we would love that, we know how difficult it can be. But if you'd like to be part of something truly holy, I assure you, it doesn't get any better than singing this gorgeous music on Christmas Eve. We'll be starting up Sunday rehearsals for Christmas music in the next month, so just email me or come see me after Sunday if you have any questions! And if that's not your cup of tea - that's ok, just come and listen. You won't regret it.
With humble thanks for your kindness and gift of song,