Saturday, December 17, 2016

Gloria in Excelsis Deo: Spiritual Reflections on Christmas Carols


As a child, Christmas engaged all five of my senses.  The fresh Christmas tree engulfed our Brooklyn row-house living room each year with its unmistakable scent of pine. I loved the feel of the tinsel sticking to my arms as I raced past the tree on my way to the kitchen which was filled with tins of cookies that my Mom baked from scratch each December. I can still remember laying on our couch watching the lights twinkle on the tree, munching on butter cookies and listening to the sounds of Andy Williams and Johnny Mathias croon Christmas carols from my parents' Christmas album collection.

Those memories fill my heart today with the same mixture of emotions I felt as a young child - a sense of wonder and joy along with a deeper tug of longing.  When I was younger, I could not fully understand why the trappings of Christmas which so captivated my senses, left me feeling a little bit empty on the inside. I watched others around me approach the Christmas season with such excitement - happily buzzing about decorating, shopping, wrapping and unwrapping with evident cheer.  Even the carols we listened to sang of "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year".  For me, however, there was a wistfulness about Christmas - one that left me feeling vaguely unsettled and even a little sad in the midst of all the festivities.

Over the years I have come to conclude that my longing was real and not something fundamentally wrong with me. While my family was decidedly Catholic and I was taught that Jesus was the reason for the season, as a child I never quite saw the connection between the festive sense - pleasing celebrations of Christmas and the quiet, hidden reality of the Incarnation in all its humble glory. As an adult, I have come to a deeper awareness of that mystery and it is that mystery and that alone that fills my heart today at Christmas with an unspeakable joy, a sense of peace and a deep awe and wonder, over the Christmas season.

Don't misunderstand me.  I enjoy a delicious Christmas cookie chased down with a cup of eggnog as much as the next gal. The Italian feast of the seven fishes on Christmas Eve is still my favorite meal of the year. In fact, I appreciate those cultural and family traditions so much more now that they take their proper place in my heart and in my life. The true focal point of Christmas, the mystery of the Incarnation, now occupies the throne of the Christmas season and contemplating it washes away any sense of wistfulness or longing that tugged at my heart in years past.

Christmas carols have been a central part of the celebration of Christmas my entire life. It is in the lyrics to many of those carols that I have come to discover some powerful truths about the impact of the Nativity of the Lord on our own daily lives. This week, I'll be sharing my reflections on many well-known Christmas carols.  I hope you'll join me on that journey!

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