He was given birth as an advertising campaign, became an American icon, and never lived a single day on earth. He was the product of imagination, and his ballad stirred the imagination of children around the world. I still wait every year for my daughters face to light up with joy when the animated version of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer comes on television. The song, and her reaction to it, is all an old man has left of his childhood.
Its strange how, especially at this holiday season, our memories are stirred by music. I turn on the television to hear some rendition of Silent Night, and my thoughts immediately go to candles burning on the altar at the small church of my youth. Let me hear Jingle Bells one time and I recall the trips we made with Dad to get the Christmas tree; with the old man singing off-key the whole way.
Ill Be Home for Christmas brought Dad the memory of a foxhole in 1944, buried up to his you-know-what in snow and melted slush. A soldier further down the line had been a choir boy and felt compulsion to sing something on Christmas. Sitting crouched in his foxhole, the young soldier gave a short impromptu concert for his buddies using that song.
Every year Dad retold how, as battle-weary men listened; that adolescent voice cut through the star-lit night. Dad recalled how it brought the sound of sobbing up and down the battle line as men who might never return home remembered family dinners and the opening of presents.
The melding together of music and the celebration of Christmas can be evidenced throughout the season. Walk into any shopping mall during December, and you are greeted by a deluge of Silver Bells, Jingle Bells and choral bells. A visit to a local music store brings realization that every artist since Bing Crosby has had their own Christmas album or song. Christmas would not be complete without hearing, just once, a rendition of White Christmas.
Likewise, I cannot imagine the Martinez Christmas Parade, or any other, without a steady stream of high school bands playing our favorite holiday tunes. Finally, let us remember that while shepherds watched their flocks, a heavenly host of angels filled the night with song.
Traditions are the very essence of the season, and the music accompanying them acts as the catalyst which spurs our emotions.
For children, the music is a part of a magical world populated by Santa Claus, elves, animated snowmen, and intriguing presents under the tree. For adults, music forms the fabric of an old familiar Christmas stocking we peek into once a year; filled with the tinkling laughter of children now grown, bright colored memories, and the warm glow of a promise made that very first Christmas night.
But simply listening to the seasonal music is an empty gesture if we dont succumb to the message the music carries, if it doesnt in some way affect our spirit.
In a scene from Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, Scrooges ghostly business partner woefully declares Mankind was my business! It occurs to me that Marleys declaration expresses the fundamental message of this season. Scrooges realization of his wasted opportunities gives the story its universal appeal because we have all wasted opportunities to help others. A chance to resolve this, which has yet to be reaped, is hidden behind all of the seasonal CD sales and local choir performances.
Perhaps we could all gather for a good old-fashioned sing-a-long with a nominal token fee going to the local food bank. One of the local shopping plazas might donate their parking lot for such a gathering, including local bands bequeathing their time and talent. And what if a small admission price went to charity?
Personally, I am one old Scrooge who would be grateful of the chance to redeem myself. The possibilities for redemption are as boundless as the stars those ancient shepherds watched - stars which circle in the silent night and watch us.
(Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident.)
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