Press-Republican

November 28, 2012

Christmas anticipation includes Christmas carols

SUSAN TOBIAS, Pinch of Time
Press-Republican

---- — The turkey leftovers should be gone by now, and most of us are thinking about Christmas.

Well, some of us thought about Christmas before Halloween or Thanksgiving even arrived, but that’s beside the point.

Black Friday — what a day of madness that has become. At 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, we drove past Wal-Mart in Malone, and the parking lot was 90 percent full of cars, and the store didn’t open until 8 p.m. I did the Black Friday deals once several years ago and swore never again. I don’t need anything that badly.

So onward we go to Christmas. Planning, cleaning, shopping, mailing, cooking, eating, spending time with family and friends is all part of the holiday. For me, it’s all about love, love of a forgiving Holy God toward sinful man, by way of an innocent babe in a manger more than 2,000 years ago.

I know there are other holidays observed by people who are not of the Christian faith, but for me and my house, my family, on Dec. 25 each year, we observe that babe who opened the door to eternal life. I applaud anybody who doesn’t want to join in, but I have my reasons for believing, along with millions of other people in the past and present.

When I was a teen, living in Westville, we attended the United Methodist Church in Trout River. I sang in the choir; it was small — made up of a handful of teens. I loved singing the traditional Christmas carols. They aren’t just words set to music. Many come from deep personal experiences, some painful, the result of the author reaching for peace from above.

“What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?”

“What Child Is This?” was penned by William C. Dix (1837-1898). According to “Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions” by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Dix was a successful insurance salesman in Glasgow, Scotland, when he became seriously ill at age 29. The story goes that he was confined to bed for a long time and became very depressed until he prayed to God and “met him in a new and real way.”

He wrote this hymn and many others. The words come from the poem “The Manger Throne,” also written by Dix in 1865. It is traditionally sung to the English folk tune “Green Sleeves.”

“O, Little Town of Bethlehem” came about as the result of a trip that Phillips Brooks made to the Holy Land in 1865. Osbeck states that Brooks, one of America’s most outstanding ministers of the past century, worshiped at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and was deeply moved by the experience.

Three years later, while a pastor at Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia, he wanted a special hymn for the children to sing during Sunday School Christmas programs. His memories brought him back to the Bethlehem trip and the peace and serenity of his time there. This is the result:

“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by; yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light — the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

Along with Lewis R. Redner, the church organist who wrote the melody, Brooks gave Christians a hymn that has become a Christmas favorite.

Most Christmas carols and hymns have multiple verses and an unforgettable chorus. In my next column, we’ll continue to look at more Christmas carols and funky Christmas tunes that have become favorites.

Don’t forget the families whose homes will have absent chairs this year, like the Danas of Moira, who lost four family members to a tragic accident this summer; the family of Staff Sgt. Dain T. Venne, who gave his life in Afghanistan that we may worship in freedom; people whose homes have burned or businesses have flooded; and a long list of others who have endured tragedy.

Even if you don’t know someone personally, please pray that peace would truly be a gift for the hurting this Christmas. Brighten someone’s day with a phone call or a note in a card.

May your hearts be happy with anticipation as Dec. 1 arrives and the countdown to Christmas Day begins. 

One last thought, as always, please be kind to each other. The world needs more kindness.

Susan Tobias lives in Plattsburgh with her husband, Toby. She has been a Press-Republican newsroom employee since 1977. The Tobiases have six children, 18 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. They enjoy traveling to Maine and Colorado, and in her spare time, Susan loves to research local history and genealogy. Reach her by email at: writertobias@gmail.com