We’re doing some old-fashioned Christmas caroling this week. Care to join us? We’re sharing our favorite Christmas songs and the memories that go with them. Isn’t it amazing how a familiar tune can reach inside us and pull the threads of memory, bringing back a moment that was lost to the seas of time?
Silent Night is one of those songs that takes me back. When I hear the lyrics, I am transported into the body of a little dark-haired, knobby-kneed girl, living in a cozy, flat roof, white stucco Florida house. Around me, the furniture is sleek and space-age in appearance, like something out of the Jetsons. Olive green and gold, beads, and big floral prints are everywhere. They are the latest thing.
I’m probably only four or five years old, not even in grade school yet, and I’m sitting on the floor in the formal living room, my legs curled under the gold-leaf coffee table with the peanut-shaped top. I’ve come in here to be alone with Christmas tree. It’s evening, and the large teardrop-shaped light bulbs shine in the branches, a softly flickering riot of color. In the next room, my dad and my brothers are yelling at the Miami Dolphins on TV. In a month or so, the men in the family will drive around the neighborhood like madmen, honking the car horn when the Dolphins win the Super Bowl. They don’t know that yet, so right now they’re talking to the TV, helping the coaches log another win.
Tonight, I barely hear their noise. I’m sitting alone in the darkened room, watching the colored lights, and I’ve wound up my favorite Christmas decoration–a ceramic music box crafted in the shape of a Christmas tree. The three Wise Men circle round and round as the tree revolves.
I hear the words of the song in my mind. Silent night, holy night…
I have finally learned all the lyrics this year, and I can sing them, though there are a few that are still hard to pronounce. The music box fills me with wonder as I contemplate the story of a baby, a special baby, born in a manger a long, long time ago. A savior. I’m only beginning to understand what that word means, to partially frame it in my mind. But my heart feels it, the way children’s hearts do. In an innocent way that has nothing to do with the doctrines men create, or the rules we are told will make us Christians.
In that moment, alone with the music box, the words ebb and flow in my mind along with the tinny melody, and I know Christ and the purest way. I understand Him as one simple, beautiful thing. Love.
Like the music box, that understanding gets lost over time somehow. The world grows, and I grow, and things become so much more complicated. Christ becomes many larger words. Whole volumes of them. The music box disappears when my parents sell the house I grew up in. I don’t think to ask after it until it’s too late. My dad doesn’t know where it is.
I’ll never see it again. I’m disappointed. I want the touchstone back. The touchstone to childhood, to that one incredible moment of divine connection. I wonder, will I ever understand Christ again and that simple and holy way? In the way of a child?
And then, one day, a surprise out of the blue. My father comes for his annual Christmas visit. He gives me one of those huge hugs as he steps from the car. My dad gives the best hugs.
“I brought a treasure for you,” he says, and smiles when I let him go. He hurries back to the car, and retrieves a box with a bundle inside it. It smells of dust, and time, and the little creatures that inhabit the corners of forgotten spaces. On the outside headline, people are protesting the fact that gas has gone over a dollar a gallon. Congress should do something about it, they think.
I peel back the bit of dried-out masking tape, unroll and unroll carefully, and then there it is. My music box. The tree and the three wise men just as I remember. A little smaller than I thought. It used to seem so big in my hands.
But here it is again. It’s mine to keep.
Mine to remember by.
I wind it in the dark of midnight when the family is asleep, and I sit by the tree.
And there alone with the music box, I remember.