A Tune for Christmas

Because it’s Christmas tomorrow, I will not be posting tomorrow. So here is the Tune for Tuesday. Sort of. I mean, it is close enough to Tuesday. And Christmas is Tuesday tomorrow! So, bonus.

This Tune for Christmas is my most favorite Christmas song, ever, out of every Christmas song known to humankind, liturgical or secular. It is a song that gets me every time I hear it, that never fails to stop me in my tracks, and that always reminds me about every wonderful thing the Christmas season stands for. There are other reasons, of course, but those are the main reasons.

And here is the great, glorious, true story as to how it became my favorite, one of those music-related stories I’ve been dying to share with you.

To the best of my recollection and deduction, when this moment occurred, I was nine-almost-ten. I say ‘nine-almost-ten’ because there was a big world event going on at the time. So it only stands to reason that this moment came about as a response to that big world event. I also say ‘nine-almost-ten’ because the holiday season the following year turned out to be not such a happy one for me. So it only stands to reason that this moment served as a sort of ‘last breath of innocence.’

My family and I were living in Wisconsin, in the house across from the convenience store. We were members of St. Mary Parish, which was about two blocks behind our house.

St. Mary's Church

High altar closeup

Father Mike O’Rourke was the pastor of St. Mary’s (We love you forever, Father Mike; may you rest in peace).

Let me tell you, you have not experienced Christmas unless you experienced the season at St. Mary’s.

Photo courtesy of St. Mary's official website; captured via cut-and-paste-in-Paint
Photo courtesy of St. Mary’s official website; captured via cut-and-paste-in-Paint

Yes, the church was always decorated like this, with the poinsettias and various other flowers, and with the tall lit-up Christmas trees (four to six total around the main altar there), and red bows at the ends of all the pews. I do have a much better photo of the altar’s decorations that I once posted on my old blog, but unfortunately I could not find that photo for this post.

It’s hard to describe, exactly, what it was about St. Mary’s at Christmas. Sorry to perhaps sound so, um, snooty and high-above-thee, but you had to have been there. The spirit of Christmas, all the joy and love and giving and faith and togetherness, was alive and well in the parish family. To a kid like me, it was as close to true Christmas magic as you could get, even more so than the thought of all the toys to potentially be opened the next morning. Yeah, it was because of St. Mary’s that I loved Christmas Eve much more than Christmas Day. Ever since we moved away, Christmas has never been the same….but I digress.

My family and I were not just members of the parish family. We were also members of the Emmanuel Choir; in fact, Mom and Dad eventually became the leaders of the Emmanuel Choir. The Emmanuel Choir always sang during 9:30 mass every Sunday morning. Other members of the choir included Sherri Settle, Carla Santkyl, Mary Nortch, Rita McConville, Ann Del Ponte, Lyle Reigel (well, he was an occasional member), Don and Donna Schmitt, Chuck, and the guitarist Rod Reynolds. And they were all really wonderful people. (The Emmanuel Choir was also popularly known as ‘the guitar choir;’ and, in fact, Rod is the main reason I’ve been wanting to take and am going to be taking guitar lessons.)

So, on this particular Christmas Eve night, the 6:30 pm Christmas Eve service was just wrapping up. The last strains of “Joy to the World” were ringing throughout the church. All the other parishioners were making ready to leave for the evening, but lots of the little kids, including my siblings and I, were wandering up and down the church aisles and up and around the altar, basking in the church’s Christmas atmosphere. I found myself in front of the church’s big antique nativity scene, which was almost as beautiful and magical as my mother’s little nativity (that I previously posted about):

Photo courtesy of St. Mary's official website; captured via cut-and-paste-in-Paint
Photo courtesy of St. Mary’s official website; captured via cut-and-paste-in-Paint

I was admiring it all, soaking up all the joy of the season that St. Mary’s had to offer. I remember honestly not wanting the moment to end, but eventually I knew that Mom and Dad and the choir would soon be packing up and we’d have to go home.

But the choir wasn’t finished singing just yet.

To the best of her recollection, Mom said it was entirely a spur-of-the-moment performance, as Rod simply started strumming chords to this particular song on a whim, and then everyone else quickly jumped at the idea of singing the whole song. To the best of her recollection, Older Sister said she remembers Dad and Rod talking about performing this song prior to the service, and they discussed with Father Mike about actually performing it during mass, but Father Mike suggested that it should wait and be sung after the mass had ended. I’m inclined to agree with Older Sister’s account on this one.

At any rate, the choir began to sing….well, to be more specific, Dad started to sing….

I had never heard the song before, but I knew at once it was not quite a liturgical appropriate-for-church song. I remember looking over at the choir, at my mom and dad, and my jaw dropping. I was absolutely blown away. I remember thinking, “Oh my goodness, can they do that?!?” I loved the audacity, them singing such a song in a house of worship. It seemed almost sacrilegious….except the song was just that fitting and amazing. And even in that moment, I knew, I just knew, that it had to have been Dad and Rod’s shared idea.

Then I looked around.

Once all the other parishioners heard the song start, all movement stopped. Nobody left! But then, huge smiles broke out on every face I saw. Even Father Mike, back in the back, was beaming.

So, you ask, what was the song?

It was John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).” Dad sang lead, Rod played the guitar, Mom and/or Rita played the tambourine, and everyone else sang.

And they made one slight lyrical change – rather than sing the “War is over….” chorus like on the record (what Yoko and the kids sang), the choir sang “Alleluia” instead.

It was so brilliant.

Back home later on, before we kids were put to bed, we finally heard the real song on the radio for the very first time.

It was the best Christmas Eve ever.

And so, that is why John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” is my most favorite Christmas song ever.

And it is your Tune for Christmas.

Happy listening! Merry Christmas to all!

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2 thoughts on “A Tune for Christmas

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