Just the other day I was feeling all verklempt. As in – overcome with emotion. Oddly, I was thinking about German Christmas carols which makes the word verklempt even more appropriate. You see, I was contemplating the retirement of traditional German music in my festive season. Sure, I can stream it and download it (and I do) but man, we used to sing it. In the Mennonite church as children and at our family gatherings when my mother would play piano and my sister and I would sing in two-part harmony. Sometimes my dad joined in on the mandolin.
Many years ago, my mother, realizing that German Christmas music was indeed dying off with the generations, took it upon herself to compile a book of favourites. Not only did she compile, but refined the notes, found all the lyrics and even scripted the final song (Stille Nacht – Silent Night) in her own hand. This book is truly one of the greatest gifts she ever gave, not only to my sister and me and a few other lucky souls, but to her church. Where it would help keep the tradition alive. She hoped.
For several years, Mother, sister and I would still gather around the piano. Even as she got older and frailer, my mother would try. Maybe one song. Then my sister (who is highly proficient) would take over for a few.
In these past years since my mother died, we have sung no carols. The German book comes out and sits on the piano but my keyboard prowess is limited at best and I just can’t site-read those notes. I’m more of a chord-girl. As in, I can play from guitar chords (on the piano) but if I tried to play actual notes on a Christmas carol it would be Easter before we finished a song. My sister complains that arthritis now stifles her playing. And our children, even though probably familiar with some of these songs – and even the German language – don’t sing.
It hit me hard the other night that this was the end of an era. As those sweet German boys warbled in my kitchen (Vienna Boys’ Choir?), I shed a tear or two. We won’t even see my family this Christmas, much less sing in any language. There will be no annual singalong around my piano (which tries to happen every year, no matter where I live) in our new home. And my son, who is such a very fine singer in his own right, has no interest in learning German or singing from his grandmother’s songbook. As much as I am certain he values his grandmother’s songbook.
The end of an era. For me, an era that has coloured my entire life.
And then I thought … just wait a minute. Just wait one gosh-darned minute! (Hey, it’s Christmas. I’m trying not to swear.) Maybe there IS a way for me to prolong this era, even just for me. (I don’t think my beloved is going to sing anything in any language, much less German.)
So I pulled out that book and I sent it to my dear friend and producer Davor. And I said, “Davor, I need you to write the guitar chords in above the words. So that I can at least try to play these songs and sing them – even alone. And I will pay you because I know musicians are struggling right now and I want to help you while you help me.
That is what I think is MOST important this holiday season. If we dwell in past Decembers, if we languish in despair because nothing is the same, if we succumb to bitterness and anger because Covid has robbed us of OUR CHRISTMAS … well, it’s going to be a pretty unjolly time. Perhaps if we simply accept that YES, it’s gonna be different and YES, some traditions won’t happen and YES, we may not all be together (except on Zoom) but YES, next year we will all be vaccinated so YES, maybe next year will be better (or more “normal”). That does not mean we simply “survive” this year. It means we adjust our expectations, we revel in the moments that do arrive and we live forward.
I know many people have lost loved ones this year. My heart truly breaks for anyone going through “the first Christmas without …” To go through that THIS year, when we cannot even be surrounded by other loved ones, well, that is a pain I cannot fathom.
I still offer – try to live forward.
We cannot change what has happened. At present, we can hardly change what is happening or what will happen. We can do our part, wear our masks, stay socially distant and try to find a way to live forward. Memories are beautiful and I believe Christmas memories are the MOST beautiful. The most poignant. And sometimes the most sad. Let us tuck them securely into our hearts, let us embrace the present for exactly what it is (a gift) and let us try with all our might to live forward.
This Christmas I suspect I will sing along with those sweet German boys in my kitchen. I don’t expect Davor to drop everything and complete my last-minute Christmas project. That’s okay. Because next Christmas I will not only have those chords, I will have had many months to practice them!
So next Christmas there will be a singalong party in our new home. But there will also be a few festive nights when I will light candles, pour wine, sit at my baby grand and all alone, play some German carols. Perhaps I’ll even try to sing along (they are never in my key which is why I always get the alto part). Maybe my sister will visit and for the first time ever I will play while she and I sing.
I don’t know what tomorrow, next week or next year will bring. And that is okay.
I am looking forward. And living forward.
I hope you are too.