Tag Archive | christmas

Christmas in Jail

City-County Bldg from City Hall

The upper floors of the City-County Building in Madison, Wisconsin are part of the Dane County Jail

“This is the first time I’ll be in jail over Christmas. I’ve been in jail a couple times before, but never over Christmas. I feel so bad for my family. Being in jail hurts my family more than it hurts me. I feel so bad for my kids. I’m really hurting my family by not being home with them for Christmas. I can’t let this happen again. I’ve got to get my life back together.”

The young woman struggled to keep tears from seeping out of her eyes as we went around the circle in the jail chapel, talking about what the Christmas story that we had just read in Matthew and Luke meant to us today.

I tried to imagine what it would have been like for my mom to be in jail over Christmas when I was a little girl.  It’s hard to picture my mom being in jail. I think the most illegal thing she ever did in her life was speed up to 70 miles per hour to pass a car on curvy Highway 12, driving from Cambridge to Madison on her way to work in the morning. The speed limit was 65 back then, and she had a gadget in her car that buzzed when she reached 66 mph. That didn’t happen very often.

Family Portrait - about 1960

Family portrait, about 1960: Nancy, Dad, Mom, Danny, Marian

But supposing Mom was in jail, whether guilty of anything, or not… What would Christmas have been like for me?

  • No Christmas baking: No cut-outs to frost and decorate. No Norwegian cookies. No date bars. No new recipe experiments – Mom tried out one or more new recipes every year. No homemade peanut brittle. No Holiday Hill whipped cream cake…
  • No one to ensure the whole house was decorated for Christmas, not just the tree.
  • No one to help us memorize our parts for the Christmas program in church.
  • No perfect Christmas presents. Mom always figured out what we wanted most, and managed to do all the Christmas shopping during the lunch hours of her job in Madison.
  • No one patiently trying to teach us patience on Christmas Eve as we waited for Dad to finish milking the cows and then come back into the house so we could open our presents.
  • No Christmas stockings. Mom always gave each of us one of her old nylon stockings with runs to set out on Christmas Eve for Santa to fill with an orange, an apple, a candy cane, and a few small wrapped presents for us to open on Christmas morning.
  • No special dinner on Christmas Day. Pan-fried chicken was my favorite.
  • No one to play Scrabble with me on Christmas afternoon.

I understood the young mother’s point in the jail circle. Christmas is a very important time to be with family, not to be sitting in jail. But that’s the situation for her this year. The other inmates understood her point, too. They felt the same way.

As we continued around the circle, we got to me. I commented that hearing the whole Christmas story read in one sitting – the shepherds, Jesus’ birth in the stable, the wise men – reminded me of a question that’s printed in the bulletin of one of the churches I’m playing at this Sunday. “If you could play a part in the Nativity story, which role would you want: shepherd, inn keeper, wise man, angel, Mary, or Joseph?”  I said that I would either want to be an angel or a shepherd. It would be so much fun, so thrilling to be singing – or playing an instrument – to be welcoming Baby Jesus into the world. Several of the inmates explored this idea for themselves. One said, “Oh, I’d want to be a shepherd. It would be so exciting.”

Nativity images

When we all finished sharing our thoughts on what the Christmas Story meant to us this year, it was time for our annual Christmas carol sing. I went to the piano and Chaplain Julia handed out song sheets. She told the inmates they could keep the song sheets if they wanted, but she would have to remove the staples before they could take them out of the chapel. Most of them wanted to keep the song sheets.

Christmas carols

Chaplain Julia said they could request two things – the song to sing and which verses to sing. The first song requested, as soon as Chaplain Julia asked for requests, was the last song in the booklet, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” The requester asked for all verses. Actually, all verses were requested for every song we sang. And, boy, did we have fun singing! There was never a long, awkward pause waiting for a request. As soon as we finished one song, another request was immediately out there. The women sang every song with enthusiasm, as a truly special women’s choir. I think we all identified with the angels. We sang a lot of angel carols – “Angels from the Realms of Glory,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” As usual, we ended with “Silent Night.”

When we finished singing, Chaplain Julia asked me, “Could we choose to be Baby Jesus in my question of who we would like to be in the Christmas Story?” She said, “It would be wonderful to be Baby Jesus and feel all the love of everyone singing to me.” The inmates agreed.

I guess a little miracle happened in jail last Thursday. The women who came to the chapel to worship God and sing Christmas Carols, walked in feeling the weight of being in jail over Christmas, away from their family and loved ones. When they walked out of the chapel and were escorted back to their cell blocks, their spirits were lifted. I’m sure some of their spirits were still praising God, singing “Glo-ri-a in ex-cel-sis De-o.” God’s love was being experienced right there in jail.

angels and Mary and Jesus

This picture may be bleached a little too white, but it still shows love – wondrous heavenly love and peace present on Earth.

 

 

Christmas brings out the Poet in me

I am not a poet – but every once in a while, especially around Christmas, I like to play with song lyrics. Several years ago I was a real estate broker, and I rewrote six Christmas songs with a real estate theme. The new titles were:

  • Christmas Tree in condoO Real Estate, O Real Estate  
  • O Little Town of Cambridge
  • Go Tell it to the Whole World
  • All I want for Christmas Is …
  • I’m Dreaming of a Good Housing Market
  • We Wish You Some Real Estate Sales

I won’t share all the lyrics here. (Email me if you want them.) But to give you an idea of how much fun I had, here’s part of the first song (to the tune of “O Christmas Tree”).

O Real Estate, O Real Estate,
The time to sell is coming.
O Real Estate, O Real Estate,
The time to sell is coming.
To sell a home at Christmastide
Spreads hope and gladness far and wide.
O Real Estate, O Real Estate,
The time to sell is coming.

Like I said, I’m not a poet, but I sometimes have fun playing with lyrics. I guess I can thank my mom for that. When I was in junior high school, Mrs. Neupert, my English teacher gave us the assignment to write a poem for National Library Week. I had no idea how to start. I talked with my mom about it, and she said the easiest way to write a poem is to think of a song you really like to sing, one with an especially catchy tune, and write new words to it. She said the tune that worked best for her was “Oh, Susanna,” the old western song by Stephen Foster. So I tried it. The only words I still remember from my poem are the opening line, “I went down town the other night to get myself a book…” I can remember singing the song over and over again in my head until I got my new lyrics just right. I think I actually wrote four verses. I wish I still had them, but I don’t. Anyway, I have the memory of having lots of fun writing my poem for National Library Week.

Last year I took the very rhythmic Christmas poem, ‘Twas the Night before Christmas, and rewrote some of the words to use as a Christmas card for the people who live with us and for the friends who work for us at Country Comforts Assisted Living, to explain that instead of giving them individual Christmas presents we were donating a cow in their names from the ELCA [Lutheran] Good Gifts Catalog. Here’s that attempt at my poetry.

Christmas Cow

‘Twas the Night before Christmas at Country Comforts

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the earth
Lots of people were hungry, despite Jesus’ birth.
Many stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that kind people would have something to share.

The children were cuddled all snug on the floor
With visions of bread and milk and maybe something more.
And Mim in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap
Were racking our brains for a present to wrap.

When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutter, and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of midday to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a beautiful cow…. To my eye came a tear.

She was black and white, a cute little calf.
I smiled when I saw her, then let out a laugh.
A wink of her eye and a swish of her tail
Let me know – soon there would be milk in a pail.

‘God’s Global Barnyard’ came right to the rescue,
A cow for a family in need, yes, we knew
Would be the best gift we could possibly give –
All of us at Country Comforts can help one family live.

A share of a cow is a mere fifty dollars.
“A gift for each person,” sweet Floey then hollers,
“Adds up to a cow for a family in need.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good deed!”

My apologies to Clement Clarke Moore for taking such liberty with his classic Christmas poem.

cow head w cowbell outside cropped flippedThis year I’m playing around with “Jingle Bells” by James Lord Pierpont. I’m struggling to find the best onomatopoeic word for the sound of a cowbell – Clanging bell? Clinking bell? Bonging bell? I’m still working on it…

Whether you like to play around with words and music like I do, or if you prefer to play online by exploring wherever google takes you, or however you like to play – I hope you find plenty of time to play this holiday season. I’m sure play is one of the gifts of the spirit that the authors of the Bible just forgot to mention.

As an old proverb says, “The body heals with play, the mind heals with laughter and the spirit heals with joy.”

A-D-M 05-06-07 2 adj

Doris and Mary, former residents of Country Comforts Assisted Living, playing with Abbey, laughing, and experiencing joy.

 

 

The Worst Sin of All according to Floey

Floey sittingMy new dog Floey and I are still getting to know each other. Christmas Day will mark the one month anniversary of Floey’s adoption date. Mim and I and all of our 93-year-olds are so happy that she joined our family. Floey loves all of us, but it’s clear that I am her favorite. She follows me everywhere. Right now, I’m sitting at my desk, and she’s sitting close beside me.

One day last week as I was reading my daily devotional book, A Book of Wonders, by Edward Hays, I decided to ask Floey what she thought about what he said. The title of the reading was “The Absolutely Worst of All Sins.” He said that in our culture, we tend to think of sexual sins as the worst sins of all. Then he added, “Yet among preliterate hunting and gathering cultures, like the Native Americans, children were taught that the worst of vices was stinginess. Not sex, but greed in all forms, was abhorred.”

I knew that Floey had been born on an Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. I wondered if any of their early Native American moral code had rubbed off on her. I asked Floey what she thought was the worst sin of all.

“That’s easy,” she replied. “Stinginess.”

“That’s amazing,” I said. “You didn’t hesitate at all with your answer. Why is stinginess worse than murder, or rape, or anything else?”

“Just think about it, Mom. You know that love is the greatest gift anyone can give, right?”

“Yes,” I replied, and she continued, “What is the opposite of being loving? It’s being stingy, right?”

“Floey, you’re really smart for a pup who’s not even a year old yet.”

Floey sitting - profile“Tomorrow, December 24, I’ll be 11 months old, but I’ve lived and learned an awful lot in those 11 months, and I’ve done a lot of thinking about what’s good and what’s bad in life. When people, and all other creatures, as well, are kind and loving and generous, the world is a better place for everyone.  But whenever someone is stingy, they’re looking out only for themselves, and the world is a little less good for everyone – including the stingy one. They start worrying about getting and protecting their fair share rather than contributing to the good of everyone.”

“Wow, Floey. You’ve really done a lot of serious thinking for a pup so young! Since we’re having such a good conversation, let’s change subjects and talk about something I’ve been thinking about lately – the commercialization of Christmas. What do you think about that?”

“You’re not really changing subjects with that, Mom. The commercialization of Christmas is the best thing to happen to temper the sin of stinginess.”

“How’s that?” I asked.

“What do you think about when you go Christmas shopping?”

“I guess I think about what each person on my list would like to get, and where I might find that gift for them.”

“That’s all about being generous, not being stingy, right?”

“I guess so…”

“Think back to your earliest memories of Christmas shopping. Tell me about them.”

“Those are good memories. Let me start with some background. It seems that every year in December we get some foggy days. Farmers call it ‘case weather.’ We just had some foggy days last week. Remember?”

“Yeah. I remember. But what does that have to do with Christmas shopping?” Floey asked.

“I’m getting to it. I grew up on a small farm. We had about 20 cows and between 300 and 400 chickens. My dad supplemented the milk and egg income with a cash crop – tobacco. Raising tobacco was somewhat controversial because my parents were opposed to smoking, but tobacco was the most lucrative crop we could raise. Essentially, tobacco is what paid for all the “extras” in our lives, like new clothes, piano and organ lessons, and when we were older, college tuition.”

My family history with raising tobacco goes way back. This picture shows my great uncle Fletcher (2nd from right) taking a break from stripping tobacco with his buddies.

My family history with raising tobacco goes way back. This photo from 1898 shows my great uncle Fletcher (the handsome one – 2nd from right) taking a break from stripping tobacco with his buddies.

“Raising tobacco was a lot of work, from planting it in the spring to harvesting it in the fall to stripping it in the winter. That’s where ‘case weather’ came into the picture. When tobacco was harvested in September, six to eight stalks were strung onto a lath. A lath is like a thick yard stick that’s about five feet long instead of three feet. The laths were then hung in a tobacco shed, the tobacco plants hanging upside down, to dry out. In December when we got several days of foggy weather (case weather), the dried tobacco was moistened from the fog. My dad took the laths of tobacco down from the shed and brought them into the barn. The barn was warm and humid from all the cows living in it. My brother and I had the job of stripping the tobacco leaves off the stalk, leaf by leaf, and laying the tobacco leaves into a press that bundled the leaves into bales of about 40 pounds. Every evening and every Saturday during case weather Danny and I spent many hours in the barn stripping tobacco for two cents a lath. That’s how I earned money for Christmas shopping.”

“Okay, Mom, now I see you’re getting to the point.”

“I worked really hard stripping tobacco the couple weeks before Christmas every year, and I usually earned between five and ten dollars. I felt rich! When I knew how much money I’d earned, I made out my shopping list. Usually, it included Old Spice After Shave for my dad, pretty candles for  my mom, stationery for my sister, and a model car for my brother. If I’d earned enough money, I might get everyone some candy or nuts, too. I always spent all my money on presents for them. It never occurred to me to be stingy and keep anything for myself.”

My family - everyone I bought Christmas presents for when I was a kid.

My family – everyone I bought Christmas presents for when I was a kid.

“That’s exactly what I mean, Mom. The commercialization of Christmas isn’t all bad. It reminds us to be generous to the people we love.”

“I guess you’re right, Floey. I’ll try to think of that when I see all those commercials on TV telling us to shop, just like I think of stripping tobacco for Christmas shopping money whenever I see fog in December. In both cases, I can remember that God wants us be loving and generous – and not be stingy.”

“You’ve got it, Mom. See why I’m proud of my Native American heritage. I see I have a lot to teach you. But that’s enough for today. I think it’s time for another walk. Can we run around the pond again? That’s so much fun!”

Floey standing

Bucket List for Advent

Claudia

Claudia

The best thing about Facebook is that it has provided a means to reconnect with several people from my past. One of those connections is Claudia, an old friend from my freshman year in college. I haven’t seen her in almost 50 years. Our only communication had been Christmas cards, until we somehow found each other on Facebook – I don’t remember how it happened. Now we enjoy reading, commenting on, and often sharing each other’s posts at least weekly, sometimes even daily.

Yesterday Claudia shared an idea from her pastor’s sermon – to have a “Bucket List” of things to complete before Christmas. “The actions on this list reflect and share the true reason for the season.” He provided eleven items to help us get started on our own bucket lists for Advent. Here’s his list, along with my comments.

  1. Help a total stranger. I don’t know who this will be, but I’m on the lookout for an opportunity.
  2. Do something special for a neighbor. Maybe I’ll take our new dog Floey to visit dog-loving neighbors.

    Floey waiting for me to finish writing this blog post so we can go for another walk.

    Floey waiting for me to finish writing this blog post so we can go for a walk and see neighbors.

  3. Extend grace to a family member (let them off the hook). That’s easy. My brother Danny and I don’t see eye-to-eye on much of anything, but we still love each other. I think I’ll bring him a tin filled with a variety of the Christmas cookies that Mim and I bake every year using Mom’s recipes. I know that will bring back lots of happy Christmas memories for him.
  4. red kettleDon’t miss a red kettle. That’s a little harder for me. I haven’t given anything to the Salvation Army in years because of their strong anti-gay position. But, I know they help a lot of people. I guess no organization is perfect, and I want to be supportive of all the good they do. I’ll try to keep a little cash in my coat pocket so I can drop something into every red kettle I pass over the next four weeks.
  5. Give of your time to listen to someone’s story. That’s another easy one for me. At a minimum, I can ask each of our 93-year-olds to tell me about their childhood Christmases. That will certainly lead to some good reminiscing, and I’ll learn more about the good old days, and more about the significant memories of each person. And, the 93-year-olds will have the opportunity to relive those memories as they tell their stories.
    2014 Birthday - Ann w Marty 2
  6. Write a note expressing your thanks to someone who has blessed you. I’ll have to think about this one a little. I have been blessed by many people. Maybe I’ll have to write several notes.
  7. Double your tip. This should be fun! Even when the servers are grouchy, maybe a generous tip will make them feel better.
  8. Take a cup of coffee/cocoa to someone out in the cold. I might cross this one off my list. I don’t typically see people working out in the cold. Instead I might heat up a glass of spiced red wine for Mim to help her relax at the end of an extra busy day.
  9. Start a “chain of blessing” by paying the bill of the person behind you (drive through, checkout, etc.) Rather than doing this, I might invite someone who looks extra busy or hassled to cut in line ahead of me (if I’m at the end of the line) in a grocery or department store. I’ll be giving them the gift of a few minutes. Maybe they’ll do the same thing for someone else in another checkout line some day when they’re not quite so hassled.
    checkout line 2
  10. Give an anonymous gift of value to someone in need. Our church makes it really easy to do this. We can provide anonymous gifts to residents of the YWCA, and to families at the Domestic Abuse Intervention Services Center and the Road Home (a service to homeless individuals and families). Suggested gifts are listed on a bulletin board in church with a code name for each person. Mim and I can identify the gift we want to give and simply bring it to church.
  11. Donate your time to help someone else. This will be one of my favorites. I’ll play the piano for the women’s worship service in jail twice in December. We’ll include an extended time of singing Christmas Carols in these services. Nothing makes me feel the Christmas spirit more than hearing the inmates enthusiastically singing their favorite Christmas carols.

Claudia ended her pastor’s list with the suggestion to add your own list items. Here’s the first addition I made as I customized her pastor’s list into my own Bucket List for Advent.

Giving Tuesday Generosity

  1. Make a generous donation to a favorite charity on “Giving Tuesday.” Today is December 2, “Giving Tuesday,” the day that follows the sequence of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. Today Mim and I will make an extra donation to Casita Copan, “a community-based organization in Copan Ruinas, Honduras dedicated to providing a loving and supportive family environment to kids in need.” We found out about this organization a couple years ago from a friend of a friend. We sponsor a little six-year-old girl, Dulce Maria, with a monthly contribution. Today’s extra gift is to help the organization meet the needs of others they care for.

I think I’ll print out my Advent Bucket List and keep it handy so that I can check off items as I complete them. I may think of other things to add to the list, too, to be sure the Advent Season of waiting is filled with doing the things I choose to do. I don’t want Advent to be just a pre-Christmas rush, a time of being too busy to keep my true priorities in line.

Advent Week 1

 

 

Remembering the Saints – the most significant people in my life who are now dead

Lots of my relatives - the year before I was born. My brother Danny is sitting on the grass on the right side of the picture - in front of Mom and beside Grandpa.

Lots of my relatives – the year before I was born. My brother Danny is sitting on the grass on the right side of the picture – in front of Mom and beside Grandpa.

 

Thursday of this week is Halloween, the eve of All Saints Day. On Sunday, some churches will read a list of members of the congregation who have died over the past year. This is a time of year to remember the people who are no longer with us who have been significant to us in our own lives, and to thank God for these people.

As I was curled up under the covers in bed this morning thinking about what to blog about today, making a list of these people came to mind – not just the people who died this year, but all the people who have died who have been significant to me. I started making a mental list of them, and I realized I’d better get up and write them down – the names were coming to me too fast to remember and organize in my mind. So I got up and quickly jotted down the names as they came to me, and I realized I’d better limit the number of people to include in the blog. So I crossed off a few names and settled on 13 people for this blog (a good number for Halloween), plus one bonus. I’m still going to thank God for all the rest, too, even if I don’t tell you about them today.

Here’s the list – 13 people who have been very significant to me in my life, and who have moved on to their next life:

  1. Mom and Dad at their 50th Anniversary celebration.

    Mom and Dad at their 50th Anniversary celebration.

    Mom. I think the most significant thing I learned from my mom is about love. I always knew she loved me, as well as my siblings, her grandchildren, her Sunday School kids, the UW students who stopped in to see her at the Presbyterian Student Center in Madison where she worked, the starving kids in Africa that she read about in her mail and sent checks to every month, and everyone else who touched her life – she loved us all.

  2. Dad. My dad taught me about work. As a farmer, he knew that he was responsible for getting all the work done. If the hay baler broke, that didn’t mean he didn’t have to bale hay that day. It meant he had to figure out how to fix the baler as quickly as possible so that he could still bale the hay and get everything else done he had planned for that day. His attitude taught me to be a problem solver as well as a hard worker.
  3. Nancy. My big sister (11 years older than me) taught me to set aside some time every day to read the Bible and pray. When she went away to college, she ordered me a subscription to a children’s daily devotional booklet to help me keep on track.
  4. Helen Knoblauch. My first grade teacher was a very kind and loving person. Everyone in her class knew that she loved them. One way she showed that love was by being the kindest of all to the kid that was hurting the most that day. I remember one day when I was that kid. A leaf had blown into my eye and scratched it when I was playing on the playground after lunch. My eye really hurt and I was crying. Mrs. Knoblauch had me sit on her lap while she read a storybook to the class. That made me feel a whole lot better – so much better that I still remember it almost 60 years later.
  5. Marion Gilberts. She was our church organist and my piano and organ teacher. In addition to using the typical lesson books, she had me learn every hymn in both of the hymnals we used in church. She also gave me the experience of playing in church by having me play an offertory at least once a year. She didn’t just teach me the piano and organ, she taught me to be a church organist.
  6. Aunt Edith at the piano. (In the 1930s she married the happy little boy pictured above, my Uncle Helmer.

    Aunt Edith at the piano.

    Aunt Edith. She was the most creative pianist I ever watched tickle the ivories. She was a self-taught gospel pianist who could play any hymn she had ever heard, in any key you wanted to hear it. The only printed music I saw her use was a hymnal or songbook, yet she improvised all over the keyboard. She is still my inspiration to learn to play more by ear and to improvise.

  7. Rev. Royal Bailie. He was the pastor that confirmed me in the Methodist Church. As a confirmation gift he gave me a different kind of Bible, the J. B. Phillips paraphrase of the New Testament. That’s the only Bible that I completely wore out the binding by opening it too much.
  8. Auntie Emma. Also known as Emma Prescott. She was my grandma’s sister. I always thought of her as the most generous Christian I knew. She and her husband, Uncle Don, supported many children through World Vision and other missions. She once made a comment that I’ll never forget. She said she was glad she didn’t have as much money as one of her daughters had. Stewardship of that amount of money was more than she could imagine handling wisely. That comment has always made me think seriously about my stewardship of all the resources God has given me.
  9. Rev. Bill Leslie. He was the pastor of one of the churches I attended in Chicago for several years. I didn’t know him very well personally, but I learned a lot from his preaching. He prompted me to think for the first time about what my responsibility as a Christian is for dealing with the problems in the city, particularly the problems that resulted from the injustices that are inherent in our culture.
  10. Mark Hjermstad. Mark was a loving pragmatist, and that’s not an oxymoron. He taught me to relate to the world the best way you can. He was a closeted gay pre-kindergarten teacher for special needs children in the Chicago Public School System. We met Mark in church, shortly before his partner died of AIDS. He became one of our best friends. He always encouraged his gay friends to be as open as they could about who they were – although he couldn’t be out as a gay teacher and still keep his own job.
  11. Mary Borgerud. Mrs. Borgerud was my fifth- and sixth-grade teacher. She taught me history, geography, kindness, and generosity. She also taught me to have fun with writing. I still remember one of the essays I wrote in her class – “I’m a Little Mouse with Great Big Eyes.” We also laughed a lot together, especially when she came to live with Mim and me at Country Comforts Assisted Living for the last year or so of her life.
  12. Eileen Scott. Thanks to Eileen I’m a church organist again. Between 1975 and 1999 I didn’t play the piano or organ for anyone except myself at home. In 1999, Eileen learned that the Methodist pastor in town discouraged me from playing for a Christmas program in his church because of my sexual orientation. As a very strong take-charge person, Eileen approached me about becoming an organist in her church, the Presbyterian Church in town. Being a church organist has been a significant part of my life ever since.
  13. Selma Jacobson. I guess now I can say Selma is my mother-in-law. Shortly after Mim and I moved to Wisconsin, Mim’s mom had a stroke which left her paralyzed on her left side. After several months of rehab, she came to live with Mim and me. Despite all her physical losses, she always maintained a positive attitude and a very pleasant disposition. She lived with us for the last five years of her life, and was a daily inspiration to me to accept life for what it is, and to always trust in God’s love and kindness.

And now, for one bonus saint – Megabyte. She was the first dog that Mim and I got together, and she enriched our lives for 15 years. The one thing that dogs know better than anything, and better than anyone else knows, is how to love.

Many names are missing from this list – Grandma, Uncle Helmer, Gary, Clark, Steve, Nicki, Hiram, Joe, Donnie, and more. If I kept naming them I wouldn’t get this blog posted today. There’s also an equally long list of people who are still alive that I’m thankful for. God has truly blessed me with loads of wonderful people – and dogs – in my life. I am so thankful. I guess it’s appropriate that Halloween, the eve of All Saints Day, starts off the holiday season. Then comes Thanksgiving, and then Christmas. All three holidays are times to be especially thankful for all the good gifts God has given us.

Megabyte and Selma welcoming a new kitten into our home.

Megabyte and Selma welcoming a new kitten into our home.

Enjoying Christmas Music to the Fullest

Mim directing her family Christmas program on Christmas Eve.

I love Christmas music – listening to it, singing it, and playing it on the piano and organ. The Christmas music season for me begins the Monday after Thanksgiving (today!) and extends at least throughout the week of Epiphany (January 6), and sometimes longer.

I like playing Christmas carols from hymnals, but I also like playing fancy arrangements of carols and secular Christmas songs, too. Without counting them, I’m sure I have at least fifty books of piano arrangements of Christmas music, and at least 25 books of organ arrangements. I need a good six weeks to even play everything once.

Getting into the spirit of Christmas music, I asked Mim yesterday about her earliest memories of singing Christmas Carols. Her fondest memory is of the Christmas Eve programs she organized for her family every year when she was a child. Her grandmother and her two aunts joined Mim and her mom and dad for a lutefisk dinner on Christmas Eve. After the traditional Norwegian meal, Mim ushered everyone into the living room to begin the program.

Mim listening to her dad read the Christmas Story.

Mim handed out songbooks and selected the Christmas carols for the family to sing. They were all the traditional carols – O Come All Ye Faithful, Joy to the World, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Away in a Manger, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Silent Night, Jeg er sa glad hver julekveld (I Am So Glad Each Christmas Eve). The last one they sang in Norwegian.

After the carol sing, Mim’s dad, a Lutheran pastor, read the Christmas story from the second chapter of Luke. The program ended with opening presents. But the highlight of the evening wasn’t the presents. It was the program – the singing and reading the Christmas story. The lutefisk dinner was a close second. Really. Mim likes lutefisk!

One of my own memories of singing Christmas carols comes from my high school years. I was part of the church choir of about a dozen members. We ranged in age from 14 to 84. On Christmas morning, around 5:00, we gathered at our choir director’s house and then walked around Cambridge singing Christmas carols. We also drove to the homes of some church members who lived in the country to sing to them. Why we went caroling so early, and whether or not people enjoyed being awakened to our caroling, I don’t really know. But we had fun doing it. We ended up at our choir director’s house again for some hot chocolate and Christmas cookies.

Mim sang in the 2000 Singing Christmas Tree. She’s in the middle of the third row. Aunt Edith was the pianist in the red jacket in the front row.

That choir director was also our church organist, and my piano and organ teacher. She was very creative and started the annual tradition of the “Singing Christmas Tree” in 1965. Her husband built a Christmas tree-shaped set of risers that we assembled in the front of the church sanctuary. A chicken wire fence was mounted in front of each riser. We wired fresh evergreens to the fences. The end result was a fragrant but scratchy Christmas tree for the choir members to stand in while singing a Christmas Concert.

The “Singing Christmas Tree” tradition has outlived the choir director and many of its original choir members. For over forty years, this concert has been presented the first weekend in December, missing only a couple years throughout almost five decades. This year’s concert is scheduled for Saturday, December 1, at 4:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 2, at 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Last year, Whispering Winds started a new tradition for people who like to sing lots of Christmas carols just for fun – not as a concert, just to get together with friends to sing. That’s coming up on December 16 at 3:00 in the afternoon. I’ll let Mim hand out the songbooks, and then anyone can choose what carols (and even a few secular songs) they want to sing. We’ll sing about an hour, then take a break for coffee and Christmas cookies, and then get back to singing as long as our voices hold out. Feel free to join us at 3:00 p.m. Sunday, December 16. Call me (608.212.6197) if you have any questions.

Meanwhile, I hope your ears, voices, and fingers enjoy the next several weeks of Christmas music as much as mine will! The words of “Joy to the World” capture some of the wonder and excitement of Christmas music. Even heaven and nature are so excited about the coming of Christ to earth that they can’t keep from singing.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her king;
let every heart prepare him room
and heaven and nature sing
and heaven and nature sing
and heaven and heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let all their songs employ,
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy
repeat the sounding joy
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

[“Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts, 1674-1748]

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven, 201 Highland Rd, Cambridge, WI.
The last of this year’s quarterly hymn sings is the Christmas Carol Sing at 3:00 Sunday afternoon, December 16. Everyone is welcome.