It's Christmas - Jesus Christ's birthday or, if you so choose, appropriated Yule, Saturnalia or the birthday of Mithra. Whatever you may believe, most of you will be celebrating something with someone while bloggers around the world bemoan either the audacity of Christianity or forgetfulness thereof via commercialism. I'm not a Jew for Jesus (just a Jew), but I'm a big fan of positive moral messages no matter where they come from. I am inclined every year to reflect on the spirit of the season and try and appreciate what good there is sans religious metaphysical baggage.
This year it occurred to me to survey Christmas Carols and see what they had to say. I have a confession to make: I have always been jealous of the range and emotional power of carols vs. what we got for Hanukkah (Dreidel Song, Hanukkah O Hanukkah). This is not to say that I don't like Klezmer and other traditional Jewish music, I'm just saying we haven't stepped up to the plate holiday tunes. (Hey, even The Jazz Singer did a Christmas album!) I confess to a secret love of Little Drummer Boy in just about every rendition - saving a special shout out to Bing Crosby and Joan Jett. I'll give you some more color on this below.
If you look at the classic canon of Christmas carols, they seem to fall into several categories. [For this analysis, I am excluding Santa- and season-focused carols (Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Jingle Bells, Let it Snow) and looking only at traditional tunes with Christ or moral/spiritual themes.]
- Woot! Christ is born! C.f. Angels From The Realms Of Glory ("Worship Christ the new-born king"), Go Tell It On The Mountain ("Our Jesus Christ is born"), O Come, All Ye Faithful ("O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord"), Silent Night ("Christ the Savior is born"), The First Noel ("Born is the King of Israel"), We Three Kings Of Orient Are ("Glorious now behold Him arise"), What Child Is This ("Joy, joy, for Christ is born")
- Peace & Joy! C.f. Deck the Halls ("Sing we joyous, all together"), Do you hear what I hear? ("Pray for peace, people, everywhere"), God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen ("O tidings of comfort and joy"), Hark! The Herald Angels Sing ("Peace on earth, and mercy mild"), It Came Upon The Midnight Clear ("Peace on the earth, good will to men"), Joy To The World ("No more let sins and sorrows grow"), Let there be peace on Earth ("...and let it begin with me"), Oh Holy Night! ("Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother And in His name all oppression shall cease"), O Little Town Of Bethlehem ("And peace to men on earth"), We Wish You A Merry Christmas ("Glad tidings we bring")
- Trust in the Lord! C.f. Away In The Manger ("Bless all the dear children in thy tender care"), O Christmas Tree ("And trust in God unchangingly")
- Act Charitably! C.f. Good King Wenceslas ("Ye who now will bless the poor, Shall yourselves find blessing")
- Little Drummer Boy
I can totally get behind love, peace, joy and beneficence to those less fortunate. The celebration of the birth of Jesus is an acknowledgement of what he means to Christians: salvation. Trust in the Lord is a subset of celebration of the birth in that you are trusting the lord to bless, keep and save you. So, we have two main threads and an outlier: Peace, Joy, Charity; Redemption; Little Drummer Boy.
Let true Christian believers celebrate the Spirit of redemption. Let non-believers and 'others' find the Spirit of Compassion and be peaceful and joyous. That seems good enough - what special message does our Little Drummer Boy bring? Why should we pay attention to this humble little musician?
The story of the song is simple: he is told to go and see the newborn King. People are bringing gifts befitting the stature of the recipient, but this poor little boy has nothing to offer except his music. He asks, can I play my drum? Mary nods, the ox & lamb keep time and when he's finished, he gets a smile from the baby Jesus.
The Little Drummer Boy is a lesson in Generosity of Spirit. He has no gift, so he gives of himself, the one thing he possesses - a song or perhaps only a beat on his drum. He who appears to have nothing gives a gift greater than the gold, myrrh and frankincense. And as it is generously given, it is likewise gratefully acknowledged by mother and child. Even the animals are moved by the gesture.
I choose to celebrate this during the "Holiday" season. Generosity of Spirit and Gratitude are beautiful ways to be all the time. If we are more susceptible to seeing this or experiencing it at this time of the year, then I embrace the opportunity rather than bemoan the lack of it the other 364. In this Spirit I humbly give you what I have: meager words expressing simple thoughts on a little blog. Please accept them in the spirit in which they are given. Wishing everyone peace, prosperity, health and joy for a Merry Christmas, a Happy (6th night of) Hanukkah and the New Year.
P.S. If you want to see an example of what I meant about range and emotional power of the traditional carol, check this out. This is what channeling the power of the universe through your soul looks like.
Tony G says
Thank you Mr.Seth for sharing the true meaning of Christmas with us. Your heartfelt words and the video at the end blessed my soul. You have proven the promise of God to our father Abraham (your father through birthright, and mine through faith in Christ Jesus) that Through Abraham’s Descendants (Israel) all of the nations will be blessed. In my opinion, Mark, Wes, and Seth have been my three wise men for 2011. God bless you all at PEL, Happy Hanuikkah, Merry Christmas, and have a Healthy and Prosperous New Year.
Seth Paskin says
Thank you Tony!
Lovely post Seth…and yes, I believe generosity of Spirit is the most important part of this season, and further–the most important effort throughout the year-though one sees it mostly during this season unfortunately…anyway, as a born Episcopalian who converted to Judaism (for my ex and my children though I have serious concerns re the way Judaism-or Israel-treat women)…one thing I know I have learned is….
Christianity: Great, amazing music
Judaism: Great, amazing food
As you are looking at the gift of the Generosity of Spirit…both these movements seek to give such, but…war, politics…
Kudos to Joan Jett but my fave is Cosby and Bowie…
Vadim Rossman says
Hello, Seth! Glad to find you here (really insightful comments)
Hope you remember me. I am currently living (and occasionally teaching Sociology) in Thailand. This March I was happy to meet our friend Shepard Liu in Beijing on the way back to Bangkok from Tokyo. I will be glad if you write me back at firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy New Year!