I am thankful for Christmas carols.
Tonight was the annual Carols by Candlelight, organized by my former director on the beach near my house. Last night my mom said they were going to sing carols at the Bean (in Millennium Park, downtown Chicago). I said, “You’re singing carols at the Bean, and I’m singing carols at the beach!” But I bet we sang the same songs, although I’m guessing I wore less clothing, and they probably didn’t sing British tunes. They could probably also hear better without crashing waves in the background.
Part of me would like to be singing carols in the States right now, bundled up, looking forward to hot cider when I’m done. I thought fondly tonight of caroling at a nursing home in Houston with my old Sunday school class.
But caroling on the beach reminds me more of Christmases growing up in Oman and Bahrain. Of course, even in the Gulf it’s winter now, so I don’t remember ever being on the beach at this time of year. But I do remember international gatherings. I remember the same conversations about which version of Away in the Manger we should sing. (I prefer the British version and was a bit put off tonight that a British woman suggested we sing the American version.) I remember the laid back, come as you are, hodge podge of traditions thrown together.
I mostly remember that traditions like singing Christmas carols become that much more important when you’re far away. As three Mozambican men jogged between us and the sea while we were in the middle of an off-key Once in Royal David’s City, I thought how odd we must all look. Why are those white people sitting in a group on the sand, looking at pieces of paper, and making funny high-pitched noises? It doesn’t make any sense at all to carry the European cold and snowy traditions and bizarre lyrics and singing style to tropical, hand-clapping, drum-beating Mozambique. It’s as unexplainable as paying nearly $18 for an 8-pound turkey. Yet the Western cultures we bring with us strangely need to hold onto these things.
(My housemate just walked by and said sympathetically, “Are you typing at this hour?” I replied, “I need to write my thanksgiving post.” She said, “Let me guess, you’re either thankful for steak or Carols by Candlelight.” I told her I was thankful for Christmas carols, although I’m definitely thankful for that steak too! She laughed and said, “Yeah, you must be running out of inspiration by now.” So I guess we don’t all hold the carols as dearly. Let it be known that I am genuinely thankful for Christmas carols!)