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The raving thoughts of a misanthropic academic

December 20, 2010

Song of the Week: Silent Night

Brown Baptist ChurchUnlike many families, the Fodder Family Christmas is traditionally held on Christmas Eve. Some of my earliest memories of life come from Christmas Eves spent in the drafty Brown American Indian Baptist Church, just five miles south of Walters on Highway 5.

(Incidentally, this is the same church where I met my wife at the tender age of 13).

As did many of the children, I had a sense of dread as we lined up to participate in the annual Christmas Program. Like criminals waiting to be executed, we somberly walked down the narrow aisle toward the front, parading before the stained glass windows and our adoring families, badly reenacting the birth of Baby Jesus. Invariably someone would fall, see their mother, or make a b-line for the exits in the middle of the procession. And every other year or so, the odd child would simply stand on the stage and cry, giving my mother/director fits.

Of course, nothing matched my personal dread, standing before a packed congregation, and reading the Christmas Story from the book of Luke, usually chapter two:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
(Luke 2:1-2 ESV)

Not to brag, but I have sometimes been asked how I developed what scant public speaking skills I have. My stock answer is that nothing steels the soul quite like reading the Christmas story to a church full of Baptists on Christmas Eve.

And let’s face it, if you can learn to properly pronounce “Quirinius” while speaking in public, well quite nearly anything can roll off the tongue.

Brown Church, Stained Glass WindowAt any rate, my big relief came when the bell tolled, sending a signal to Santa Claus that the torture of the children was over.

Bounding through the front door, parading past the stained glass windows, Santa Clause came with a big bag of presents for all the boys and girls – whether good or bad, much to my chagrin. That particular moment always struck me as an incredible teaching opportunity to stiff the kids that had screwed up our Christmas play.

Santa seemed to think better of it.

Of course, this came as little surprise. Santa Claus was always one to let the odd bit of mischief go unpunished. I knew this first hand. After all, the part of Santa Claus was played by my Grandfather who was generally quite keen to turn a blind eye to the trouble-making caused by his grandchildren.

Many years have passed, and Grandpa Fodder has long since relinquished his role as Santa Claus in the Brown Church Christmas Program. I suppose hip replacement surgery makes it somewhat perilous for squirming children to sit on his lap these days. But the Christmas tradition soldiers on every Dec. 24th.

Papa's Living Room, Christmas 2004Church services were followed by our family Christmas at the Fodder Family Farm. Our stockings hung neatly above the cramped living room. Toys packed deep within the branches at the base of the Christmas tree. Nothing compared to the smell of the cedar as we entered the house. The scent was even more satisfying, knowing that I had helped cut the tree from a grove near the creek behind our house.

After Christmas dinner, pie, and coffee (I began drinking the nectar of the gods around age five) it was finally time to open presents. As the living room became a wasteland of wrapping paper, I could always look forward to the pouting face of my youngest sister when she did not get the Bratz Doll of her choice.

Chelsey - I Hate This Bow

But what I remember most about the Church service, and our family gathering was the music. From the church singing carols in unison, to the small cd player tucked into the corner of our living room, it was always the Christmas music that set the spirit of the evening. Christmas would surely have been memorable and special without the sounds to match. But with them, the evening was perfect.

Among the pantheon of hymns, no song stood out more in my mind than the timeless Christmas Carol, Silent Night as performed by Bing Crosby. I could wax eloquent about the song’s timelessness, and the depth of meaning it communicates. But the carol’s genius is in its brevity, and its profundity in its simplicity. A simple song, for a simple message of redemption that mankind will never fully grasp.

The Bing Crosby version of the Silent Night, circa 1947 is the gold standard for the song. Crosby’s performance is notable for its starkness. A simple white backdrop and a boys choir are all that accompany the voice more widely associated with Christmas than any other.  The carol will almost certainly blare from the iPod player as we open Christmas presents Friday night, in the same cramped living room you see above. For if Christmas isn’t about tradition, then nothing is.

With that, please enjoy the Pax Plena Song of the Week: Silent Night as performed by Bing Crosby. Lyrics follow after the jump.

Silent Night, Holy Night
By Bing Crosby

Silent Night, Holy night, all is calm, all is bright
'Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in Heavenly peace
Sleep in Heavenly peace

Silent Night, Holy night, shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from Heaven a far
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia
Christ the Savior is born
Christ the Savior is born

Silent Night, Holy night, Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

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