Christmases Past

Christmases Past

We’ve almost made it to Christmas. Just being so close to the solemn celebration of the birth of Jesus brings memories of Christmases in my family’s parish church.

Singing in the parish choir was a delightful challenge every Christmas. Learning the words for English, German, and Latin carols was fun because the melodies made the words stick. Memorizing the words was required so we would keep our eyes on the choir director while we sang under candlelight. Learning to sing our parts on pitch was a tall order for grade school boys, since we sang in two parts. Looking back, I suppose that training us worked because Mr. and Mrs. Seiwert, the parish choir directors, did not tolerate shenanigans, including snowball fights before practice.

To learn new foreign words and how to pronounce them was fun. Emmanuel—that was not just a name for Jesus, it was a whole Hebrew sentence. “Ihr Kinderlein kommet” touched me because that’s exactly what the choir did: we processed to the crib singing that old German tune. Then there was “Silent Night” with German and English verses. “Adeste Fideles,” or “O Come All Ye Faithful,” had tricky Latin commands for verbs in different conjugations. The project of singing the soprano parts of the four-part Latin Mass was tedious. Kyrie eleison in Greek, Gloria in excelsis in Latin.

We had to learn how to blend with the men and women singing their parts. Maybe it was just me, but I never felt the men were on pitch at Christmas Eve midnight Mass. My older brother explained that the men already had too much to drink, so they sang flat on Christmas Eve. They were usually on pitch come Christmas morning.

Memories of Christmas in the humble circumstances of the rural Philippines still pull at my heart strings. One barrio choir began Christmas morning Mass with “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” while the temperature was about 90 degrees from the tropical sun.

Then there was the Christmas dramatization of the Gospel of the nativity with goats, a water buffalo, a pony, and dozens of teenagers singing and playing their parts with great pride and precision. The church glowed with pressurized kerosene lanterns like the ones the fishermen used for night fishing. Cebuano tunes filled the place as everyone sang. In the silent moments of the liturgy, even the waves pounding the seashore made wonderful, soothing music.

Celebrating Christmas affirms our faith in God’s love made incarnate in Jesus born in Bethlehem. He is called Emmanuel, a name that reminds us God is with us. Take time to reflect on Christmases past and you will reaffirm the faith we share.

Image Credit: PhotoXpress


About the Author

Dan Kroger, O.F.M., a native of Cincinnati, joined the Franciscans in 1967 and was ordained in 1973. He taught high school and served in rural parishes in the Philippines. Dan earned a Ph.D. in Christian ethics at Notre Dame. He also taught at De La Salle University, Manila, until he was assigned to his present post as publisher/CEO at Franciscan Media in 2006.