I am always a bit ashamed in traveling to Russia and other places in the world that I come from a country where shared folk singing is not as strong as in other cultures. That is until I consider the great American and British tradition of carol singing around Christmas time.
I remember with great fondness when I first started learning multiple Christmas carols by heart. In a private Lutheran school in a nearby small town about the size of Bethlehem, we used to gather the entire student body in the lobby during all of Advent to sing all the great carols. Our music teacher was never satisfied with just a few verses and always had us sing out and sing to the end. Thanks to her, I learned all the verses of all the carols, and we got a chance to sing them not just for one another, but for shut-ins and for older friends in nursing homes. She kept this practice of teaching hymns even outside the Christmas season by hosting a “hymn of the month” in music class, and again, teaching us all the verses of a particular hymn.
Now when our family goes to Russia and everyone after dinner shares a folk song or two, we can at least point to one time in the year in America where it is common for a random collection of people to come together and sing a battery of cherished music by heart. May the Christ whose birth inspires such lusty vociferousness be with you all in this New Year.
Merry Christmas to those celebrating today on the Old Calendar. Blessed Theophany or Epiphany to those on the New Calendar. May He who deigned to be born in a humble stable and baptized by John in the Jordon teach us all how to despise the ostentatious and delight in the humble, intimate, and simple moments of our lives.