Christmas spirit

Last night friends and I gathered together to sing carols. This has become a tradition of mine – every year (except last year, when I was travelling in December and January) I hold a Christmas Carols party. It is no doubt a very daggy event (in the eyes of many), but the people who come tend to be the people who don’t hold this prejudice – they come because they love to sing, I guess, and love the old songs that tell us that Christmas is upon us.

This year the wonderful Simon and Victoria hosted the party in their home in Alphington, and suggested that once we had sung through our favourite carols, we hit the streets, and raise some money for Oxfam.

It was such a lovely evening! We were about twelve people in total. And in general, we had very positive reactions from the people we called on. The only exception was the woman who yelled at us ferociously, “Don’t come in! There’s a dying dog in here!” And when we apologised, backing away as fast as possible, she replied by telling us to “f*** off!”.

But that was an exceptional response.

Others were delighted, and brought out members of the family who had gone to bed, or who were watching TV. We sang until about 9pm, I think, by which time the air was getting cool. For Victoria, this brought to mind The Sound of Music, and Maria sternly telling the Nazi captain that

This night air is not good for the children’s voices.

Certainly we were getting tired towards the end.

We had guitar (Nico), clarinet (me) and violin (Rose) to accompany our efforts. We decided we sounded pretty fine indeed. We raised $150 for Oxfam, and we plan to make it an annual event.

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I think for me, Christmas feels like Christmas when the ‘markers’ start to appear – the events and things that you do each year, that become traditions, so that when they happen, you know you are in the midst of the festive season. I guess for some people this is things like the Myer Christmas windows… in fact, these used to be a marker in our family when we were little, but so much of the way Christmas is marked in the general public is so commercial these days that it is bereft of any genuine Christmas spirit at all.

Instead for me, it is things like going to hear The Messiah being performed (which I couldn’t go to this year, but missed just the same), or playing for a friend’s carol service the Sunday before Christmas ( a new tradition of the last few years). My own carols party has become one of these markers, and because the same people come every year, we look forward to laughing at the same jokes every year (substituting the word ‘thong’ for ‘throng’ in While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks for example, and collapsing helplessly into giggles as a result, unable to complete the verse). Other people bake traditional biscuits and share them with friends. Or start the Christmas pudding mix and make sure everyone in the family has a turn at mixing it, and making a wish. Or baking dozens of mince pies. Perhaps these kinds of markers are so effective because they hark back to earlier days, when we didn’t just buy all the things we needed. We made our own music, made our own sweets, and made an event out of the activity so as to share it with many.

Last year I didn’t really celebrate Christmas. I enjoyed that too – it was nice not to have all the shopping to do, to be able to avoid the bombardment of messages (generally exhorting one to ‘buy! buy! buy!’) through all forms of media. I was in Sarajevo, where people wished me sretan bozic because they could see I was foreign (and therefore probably celebrating Christmas rather than the Muslim holiday of Bajrom, which they had all just finished celebrating).

But interestingly, tellingly, I still found myself singing. On the eve of Christmas Day, after spending much of that snowy day wandering around the ancient centre of Sarajevo, in and out of artisan shops and stalls, I got home to my friend’s mother’s house where I was staying, relatives came around and we ended up singing Bosnian sevdah the whole evening. (You can read about that night here). It was a beautifully moving evening, and like last night, shows music to be perhaps the most precious of gifts that we can share with others, and use to gather people together.

Here is a final photo from last night’s carols – one house we visited had just as entertaining a show on their front porch as we provided!

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