They’ve been doing it for centuries. Singing in narrative verse to tell the story of the the nativity and the Christmas miracle. Wearing long red robes which morphed into vibrant red sweaters, men and women have stood on choral bleachers in front of audiences for a very long time singing songs of the coming of Christ.
Tis’ the season of the Christmas Cantata.
Raise your hand if you know what those two words mean. For those of you who aren’t attending church, never have, maybe never want to – that’s cool too. Think a carefully curated playlist of classics like Silent Night, Joy to the World, with maybe parts of Handel’s Messiah mixed in.
I have one vibrant memory of attending such a concert at the church my dad pastored. I was five or six and sat in the first few church pews, staring up in wonder at the gentleman singing in front of us. The mustard yellow upholstery scratched my little legs in their little white tights as I swung them back and forth, teetering on the edge.
I remember the glow of the candles, and the warm yellow lights bouncing off the brick walls of the sanctuary and I remember the sweaters. Bright red sweaters, probably with a crisp white collared tee underneath, were paired with khakis making middle aged men looked like Target employees. I remember sitting next to my dad and watching those sweaters move while their mustaches danced as they mouthed out melodies of all the traditional songs. I mostly remember the mustaches.
It has been years since I’ve been to a Christmas Cantata. For whatever reason, many of the newer, non-denominational churches we’ve been attending in the last decade don’t allow just any man on stage to sing.
In these bigger, more liberal establishments, musicians have to try out and prove their worth to perform with a microphone. We wouldn’t want worship led by an average engineer in khakis would we? Including ordinary folks’ talents in worship seems a lost art in the new wave of Christian religion.
This past weekend we didn’t go to a Canata, per se’, but we did go to a Christmas worship service at the local Presbyterian church. I sat in a mustard yellow church pew that surely would have scratched my legs if I was wearing white tights. Around me, the average demographics of the audience were certainly older by twenty years compared to where we sometimes worship now. On the front table were four Advent candles, three purple, one pink, one white – another tradition missing from big church stages. Above in the rafters, supported carefully in the beams, sat a most massive pipe organ waiting to be awoken by the days event. Big stained glass windows filtered the light encouraging it to dance across the stage. This was a sanctuary steeped in tradition and liturgy and it made me miss my Evangelical roots … just a teeny bit.
A tiny orchestra of ten or so men and women formed just below familiar black risers. To the left of them sat a full choir with close to thirty singers wearing floor length blue robes. Behind them, a bell choir of twelve wore plush velvet shirts and black gloves to protect the fragile tones. They were quiet – eager and ready to play and sing.
This congregation rallied over 100 talented folks to show up to share the gift of Christmas music with us. I don’t know, maybe they had to audition, but I was moved by the willingness for ordinary people to sign up and say, ‘Hey, I know how to play an instrument and I’m going to use my skill to bring some joy this season.’
Bring joy they did – an hour of beautiful music rehearsed and delivered to bring magic our way.
There is beauty in tradition, in family memories of Christmases past, and in the reverence experienced when we still our hearts enough to watch those willing to share their gifts with us. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or if you sing a little flat. Your voice carries and lifts up hearts. Your wrists make bells do magical things. And the choice to be present and not participate like the little blond boy with his arms stuffed up in his purple choir robes, refusing to sing a single word in the children’s choir – that’s beautiful too.
P.S. – There’s still time to enter the Give Light Giveaway. My friends at Colorpockit have just launched their new business and are graciously donating a set to be included in the prize pack this year. Colorpockit is the new portable adult coloring system that allows you to take your creativity wherever you go! It’s available in plastic or wood, and each Colorpockit comes with 12 dual-sided pencils giving you 24 vibrant colors, a built-in pencil sharpener, and 12 postcards to color. Fun right! You can learn more here.