It was an annual tradition back in my days at College Street Public School. Every Friday morning from mid-November until Christmas break, the whole school – grades one through eight – crammed into a makeshift auditorium. We had no gym back then, only two adjacent classrooms with a removable wall between them. Chairs and desks were stacked in the hallway and we sat on the floor, nearly on top of each other. (No one had ever heard of social distancing.) The scent of mimeographed song sheets and damp socks mingled in the air, along with a sense of excitement. This was, after all, a harbinger of the holiday season ahead. The final session would be recorded on a reel-to-reel tape recorder and played over a loudspeaker at the town’s Santa Claus festivities in December.
Mrs. Comfort efficiently hammered away on the old wooden piano, while the school music teacher, Mrs. Alexander led the singing. The other teachers were stationed randomly around the room, keeping a watchful eye on their students. I don’t remember any incidents when discipline was needed. Most of us were only too happy for the weekly respite from morning Math class, even if our bums were numb from the hard floor. We eagerly shouted out favourite song titles when requests were allowed.
We had pages and pages to choose from. On any given sheet you could find songs like “I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” right beside “What Child is This?” Without even realizing it, in my mind I separated the secular from the sacred, although my vocabulary at the time included neither of those words. As much fun as it was to sing, “Up on the Housetop,” there was something moving and intensely beautiful about “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Even with limited biblical understanding, it was obvious that the majesty and magnitude of the Saviour’s birth far outshone flying reindeer prancing across the night sky.
Tinsel or truth?
My system wasn’t flawless. It took years before I discovered that the Drummer Boy wasn’t actually in any of the four Gospels. Who knew only Matthew and Luke recorded Jesus’ birth at all? And it likely didn’t happen on the 25th of December! If that weren’t shocking enough, there is apparently no scriptural evidence that there were specifically three Wise Men following that star. And oh, by the way, however many there were in fact, they didn’t show up at the manger and have no business appearing on a nativity scene. Fake news is nothing new.
Still, I worked at sorting the tinsel from the truth as best I could, applying the same principles when my kids were little. I didn’t want to deprive them of the fun of light-hearted stories and traditions, but my sincere desire was for them to grasp that Jesus is the reason for the season. Though the phrase may be cliché, its meaning remains ever true and relevant.
Mimeograph machines and reel-to-reel recorders are usually found in museums nowadays. But some things haven’t changed. It’s still a challenge to be in the world and not of it. Last year the COVID Grinch stole our beloved Christmas Eve family gathering. Today the pundits predict “supply chain issues” will cause a shortage of available Christmas gifts.
No matter. Christ will always be the heart of the season. Christians dance to a different drum. We sway and swirl to the rhythm of the Spirit. He guides our promenade under the glorious cadence of God’s word. We may be out of step with the world, but whatever happens this December 25, our God reigns. And he’s coming again!
Merry Christmas to all.
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