Posted by: njs44 | December 19, 2009

Carol singers

The parents behind me at the Carol service were thoroughly enjoying themselves. They proudly pointed out to each other, and to anyone else who was interested,  each item that their children were involved in and commented on how beautiful the carols and songs were. I think they were probably quite musical parents as they made remarks about harmonies and key changes and how skillfully the music teacher had arranged parts so that even a beginner trombonist could participate, even though she could only play a few notes. It is good when music teachers are appreciated, as they put in so many hours above and beyond the call of duty, especially at this time of year.

Then the senior choir sang a three-part arrangement of The Infant King, a beautiful Basque carol with words by Sabine Baring-Gould. ‘Lovely harmonies again,’ whispered the mother as the song ended, ‘but why do they have to sing all that grim stuff about nails and piercing and bitter grief? Not very Christmassy is it?’ I didn’t hear her husband’s reply as the orchestra struck up the introduction to the next carol, but I pondered her words for a while afterwards and found myself coming back to them when I heard that same echo of suffering in other carols.

The age-old question of why God allows suffering is never going to be answered easily. I think of those who suffer at Christmas, such as people who have been recently bereaved, those who are homeless, those who have no work, those who can’t afford the fare to visit their families. Perhaps those carols which have ‘sad’ verses are there to remind us that the world is not all tinsel and glitter and chestnuts roasting round an open fire. The reality is we are human, with human frailty and human needs. We need reminding, sometimes, to be grateful for what we have and not to envy those who have more. We need to be reminded to reach out to those who have less, to make allowances for those who are not full of good cheer. We need to be reminded that Christ was a refugee who lived in exile and whose life was far from comfortable.

I am not advocating being Scrooge-like although there is a strong streak of ‘bah-humbug’ in me when it comes to some aspects of the Christmas season. I can get quite depressed when I read those magazines that tell you how to do Christmas properly and give recipes for a hundred-and-one things you simply must make to feed your guests at Christmas. I can get to the point where all I feel like doing is snuggling under my duvet and staying there until the 12 days are over. Fortunately there are those who won’t allow me to indulge myself in that way. And the carols are there to remind me that Christmas is not just about sweet singing in the choir.

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