Today I was at my amateur singing group participating in our final rehearsal before our first of two public performances singing Christmas carols. We have a lot of fun at rehearsals and sometimes I am reminded of all those old English TV sitcoms such as “Are You Being Served” etc (although there are only women in the group as most men are not interested so there are no jokes with sexual innuendoes or mentions of measuring inside legs). Our fearless leader Sylvia tries desperately and largely unsuccessfully to keep us in control with the use of a bell, and there is much merriment and talking when we should be singing. We often get confused as the order of songs and even the words and intonations are forever being changed, until our song sheets are covered with so many alterations and scribbles that they resemble a graffiti covered wall. I live in fear of blurting out a censored word at the wrong time or repeating a line in the chorus which is now redundant. In “The Little Drummer Boy” for example, the line beginning: “the ox and lamb kept time pa rum pum pum pum” has now morphed into ” the ox and ASS kept time pa rum pum pum pum”. I live in fear that I will make an ass of myself and substitute the rejected lamb at the last moment by mistake!
Some of the group have even become mutinous and tried to update the language. ‘It’s’ has been favoured by some over the traditional ’tis’ e.g. ’tis the season to be jolly’. It makes me think that if we can’t all agree on how to sing simple Christmas carols then there will be no hope for a world consensus on climate change or world peace let alone nuclear disarmament. Still we have never come to blows over it, and I am sure that on the day we will all stand together dressed in our Christmas-themed shirts and hats, with baubles hanging from our ears or flashing brooches pinned gaily to our chests and sing with wild abandon. It will not be worthy of a standing ovation let alone any awards, but I think we will bring a little cheer (possibly a few muffled laughs) to our audience, and we have now roped in two men to accompany us which will add a little depth to the performance. There will also be a couple of Christmas readings of Christmas poems as well as an excerpt from Charles Dickens‘ wonderful novella “A Christmas Carol”, the piece about the poor but happy Cratchit family’s Christmas dinner which will all add to the theme. We will also have the words to the songs projected onto a screen so our audience will be encouraged to join in rather than be passive participants (this will have the added benefit of hopefully drowning out any musical faux-pas). One of our songs is John Lennon’s piece “So this is Christmas” which seems particularly relevant still.
In this world of fast food, rampant technology and social isolation there is still a place for the Christmas carol. The act of getting a group of people together all singing the same song (hopefully with as much skill as enthusiasm), even though the words “gay apparel” may now have an entirely different meaning than originally intended by the writer is in my eyes a small triumph. Dressing up in silly costumes, beating drums and waving bells around wildly all have their place in the so-called “silly season” and we can all feel a certain connection to each other, even if we have never seen a white Christmas, don’t know where to get some holly from to deck our halls and no longer believe in Santa Claus. It gives us a chance to relax and celebrate life with friends and family and an excuse to revisit our childhoods. It is also a time to be generous to others who are less fortunate and appreciate all we have in an increasingly divided world.
“It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,’ returned the nephew. ‘Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that- as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol