By Laura Carlo
I was in front of my house chatting a few days ago with a Jewish neighbor of mine who was telling me how much she loved the Christmas decorations starting to go up around our neighborhood. She said she had always loved the soft twinkle lights best, and talked about how “light” was so important to the end-of year holidays for Jews and Christians alike, and now that we’re thinking about it, even for those who celebrate Winter Solstice. I told her that I love the lights too, whether they are simple candles in the window to the occasional house so bright you can see it from outer space.
The lights mean hope, celebration of a miracle. All my senses are engaged for this holiday - there are certain foods without which it would not be Christmas for me. There are some wacky family traditions, from all of us wearing the same red flannel pajamas on Christmas Eve to making sure that not only Santa gets his milk and cookies (and always a good variety), but also that Rudolph and the other 8 reindeer get left a lovely plate of organic carrots and apples. And we absolutely have to decorate with ornaments that have been in our family for generations, even if it means calling in a professional private investigator with bloodhounds to search through the dark hidden nooks of our cellar for the boxes that we keep meaning to label properly and never do.
Just as important for me is the music of the season. It surprised my neighbor when I mentioned to her that some of the Christmas carols we love today were composed by what we call “classical” composers. She had no idea, for example, that “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” was the music of Felix Mendelssohn (with lyrics from Charles Wesley); that “In the Bleak Midwinter” was the music of Gustav Holst, (lyrics by Christina Rossetti); and the one that Pavarotti made “his,” “O Holy Night,” was composed by Adolphe Adam, (lyrics by Placide Cappeau de Rouquemaure). Sure, “modern” carols can be fun and have their place in holiday gatherings... but for me, it’s the comfort of the old things---lights, foods, scents, traditions---and music---that make it Christmas. Through this month I’ll be playing some of these musical Christmas staples that came from the holiday hearts of the great composers. It will be great if you end up saying “Really? Mendelssohn?” And maybe if you have a couple of free minutes during this most hectic season you’ll get a chance to share with me something so important that it “makes” your holiday for you. I’d love to hear about what your traditions or best memories are for the end-of-year holidays.
(image: Daniel Schwen via Wikimedia Commons)
Subscribe to WGBH Arts & Drama Emails
Support for WGBH is provided by:Become a WGBH sponsor