The Joy Of Christmas Singing…Or Making A Joyful Noise

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for December 20, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            It has been noted many times by many people that churches are filled twice a year, — Christmas and Easter. While not all churches have services on Christmas Day, for those that do, what is it that members want on that day in church?

            It would take months to research the answer to that question, and I’m sure the answers would be as varied as the backgrounds and personalities of the people themselves. However, if I take a look at friends, relatives, and parishioners in my parish, I think I can safely answer that one of the main “wants” is the joy of singing or hearing Christmas music, both on Christmas Day and the weeks preceding.

            Over the years, that too has been a major “want” of mine. Of course, the Christmas hymn which has always meant the most to me is “Silent Night” (“Stille Nacht”) sung in German. After all these years, I can still remember (but not sing) the tenor part to “Stille Nacht.” I love to HEAR music, and I listen well, but singing has never been one of my talents. In fact, my wife used to signal me to turn my clip-on mike off during the singing in church.

            The other two hymns which I remember and cherish from my childhood are “O Holy Night” and “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” We sang these two in our little Lutheran church in Dime Box every year at our Sunday School Christmas Program on Christmas Eve. Since the original “O Holy Night” was written by a controversial theologian and “We Three Kings” considered a tad “unbiblical” (the Bible doesn’t say how many Magi there were), our pastor did not approve of them. Although he told us what to sing in church, the Sunday School Superintendent (who was my cousin) decided what was to be sung at the Christmas Program, and she liked those two songs.

            At home, my family, including aunts and uncles, would gather around the piano, with either my mother or me (rarely) playing, and we would sing such family favorites as “The First Noel,” “Hark the Herald Angels,” “Away in a Manger,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” and “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful,” the top family choices. Those of us like me, who couldn’t stay on pitch, would make a joyful noise!

            In spite of a number of years of piano lessons, I was a very mediocre (actually, terrible) pianist, and we all preferred by mother’s accompaniment. One thing, however, my piano lessons did do for me was to take me in new directions of musical tastes.

            You see, my piano teacher was an old German Lutheran high brow lady from Giddings, and she would let me learn to play only classical music (simplified versions, of course), — Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Wagner, etc. As a consequence of her tyranny, years later I came to love Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, sung in German. When/if I hear it at Christmas, it brings tears to my eyes.

            As a Lutheran pastor, one of my greatest joys during Advent and Christmas was found in selecting the music for those seasons. Even though Seminary professors discouraged singing Christmas hymns during Advent, especially since there are so many beautiful Advent hymns, my congregation wanted to sing Christmas music. They argued that everyone loved to sing Christmas hymns during the weeks before Christmas and not after December 25, even though Christmastide doesn’t end until Epiphany. Agreeing with them, every year I added more and more Christmas hymns during Advent.

            In recent years, it became a tradition for my family to form a quintet and sing a special song on Christmas Day at our church in Wallis, the quintet consisting of wife, two daughters, and two granddaughters. All five have angelic voices, and their singing must be added to my store of Christmas nostalgia.

            Since we have less than a week left before Christmas, we need to create more opportunities to sing those wonderful, joy-filled Christmas songs. Or, if you are like me, to make a joyful Christmas noise!

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Ray Spitzenberger, a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor, has recently published a book, It Must Be the Noodles, on sale at amazon.com.

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