I’ve got nothing against whiskers on kitten, but I’m not so sure about snowflakes on my nose and eyelashes, and brown paper packages sounded a little sketch these days, but I would like to share with you a few of my favorite things over the next few weeks until Christmas.
Truth is I love Christmas. As a Christian it is truly a magical time; the deepest magic of all as Aslan says in the Narnia series. The transcendent God, creator of the Universe, squeezing Himself into a tiny human form on this tiny planet, and all to redeem the even tinier inhabitants, and furthermore, all of this being part of an incredible plan from before time began as part of a radical demonstration of God’s Grace, Glory and majesty in the redemption of an entire fallen universe. In fact, it’s impossible to overstate how profound ,significant and miraculous is the true Christmas Story.
It should be no surprise then that, like our Heavenly Father Himself, there are many less profound but still good shadows which are left by its super historic stature. While I can understand that some of my fellow pastors sincerely find it troubling that these shadows are not recognized for what they are, I also find it extremely easy to enjoy the goodness in these shadows. I love that people are singing praises to our God at this time of year even though they don’t embrace the amazing and strange story of the Gospel. I love that people try to be kinder this time of year even though they should be loving all year round. I delight in the well wishes, family togetherness, even the gift giving, all of which, though shallow, are none the less positive reflections of Good News. To a man dying of thirst a shallow pond will be no less special than an ocean in the desert.
Anyway, I’d love to take the next few weeks to celebrate both the profound and the shallow with you. Both the shadows and the reality with a few of my favorite things. For interest, I’ve tried to select things which are perhaps less well known, less likely to be recommended from other sources even though I will enjoy many more common items as well.
Today, in the category of Christmas music, I have two.
My favorite offbeat Christmas album: Oy to the World! A Klezmer Christmas
Truth is this has been one of my favorite Christmas albums for almost a decade now. It’s one of the ones I start playing earliest and keep playing until my family says no more carols. For those who are not aware, Klezmer music is a musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe, at least that’s what Wikipedia says. Bottom line is that it’s traditional Jewish music. Think Fiddler on the Roof (another one of my favorite things by the way.) I love this album for many reasons. 1) Because it sounds awesome. 2) Because it’s hilarious. There is, of course, a delicious irony in a distinctively Jewish Christmas album. Of course even the album name is intentionally humorous. 3) Because behind the ironic intent there is a, I suspect, unintentional irony because Christmas is of course a Jewish occasion first. It is the arrival of the Jewish Messiah. 4) There is such good nature in all this irony that it ends up being amusing without being edgy, truly celebratory and unique. If you’re interested in trying it out (and you really should be) just click on the image above to go to Amazon to buy it.
My Favorite Opera for non-opera-lovers: Amahl and the Night Visitors.
In 1951 NBC commissioned Gian-Carlo Menotti to write the first opera for television. My kids have all known me to walk around the house at Christmas time singing, “This is my box, this is my box, I never travel without my box…” Even if you don’t like Opera, I would recommend you give this English opera written for children a try. Just click on the link to go to the Amazon page. I’ll let the composer speak to the rest. This is from the original cover notes.
This is an opera for children because it tries to recapture my own childhood. You see, when I was a child I lived in Italy, and in Italy we have no Santa Claus. I suppose that Santa Claus is much too busy with American children to be able to handle Italian children as well. Our gifts were brought to us by the Three Kings, instead.
I actually never met the Three Kings—it didn’t matter how hard my little brother and I tried to keep awake at night to catch a glimpse of the Three Royal Visitors, we would always fall asleep just before they arrived. But I do remember hearing them. I remember the weird cadence of their song in the dark distance; I remember the brittle sound of the camel’s hooves crushing the frozen snow; and I remember the mysterious tinkling of their silver bridles.
My favorite king was King Melchior, because he was the oldest and had a long white beard. My brother’s favorite was King Kaspar. He insisted that this king was a little crazy and quite deaf. I don’t know why he was so positive about his being deaf. I suspect it was because dear King Kaspar never brought him all the gifts he requested. He was also rather puzzled by the fact that King Kaspar carried the myrrh, which appeared to him as a rather eccentric gift, for he never quite understood what the word meant.
To these Three Kings I mainly owe the happy Christmas seasons of my childhood and I should have remained very grateful to them. Instead, I came to America and soon forgot all about them, for here at Christmas time one sees so many Santa Clauses scattered all over town. Then there is the big Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza, the elaborate toy windows on Fifth Avenue, the one-hundred-voice choir in Grand Central Station, the innumerable Christmas carols on radio and television—and all these things made me forget the three dear old Kings of my old childhood.
But in 1951 I found myself in serious difficulty. I had been commissioned by the National Broadcasting Company to write an opera for television, with Christmas as deadline, and I simply didn’t have one idea in my head. One November afternoon as I was walking rather gloomily through the rooms of the Metropolitan Museum, I chanced to stop in front of the Adoration of the Kings by Hieronymus Bosch, and as I was looking at it, suddenly I heard again, coming from the distant blue hills, the weird song of the Three Kings. I then realized they had come back to me and had brought me a gift.
I am often asked how I went about writing an opera for television, and what are the specific problems that I had to face in planning a work for such a medium. I must confess that in writing “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” I hardly thought of television at all. As a matter of fact, all my operas are originally conceived for an ideal stage which has no equivalent in reality, and I believe that such is the case with most dramatic authors. —Gian-Carlo Menotti
These are my two favorites for this post. I believe either of them are worth a try to enrich your current Christmas traditions. I don’t mind telling you that if you purchase either item through the link on this page, I do receive advertising compensation from Amazon. This in no way impacts my list since I made my list first and then found the items on Amazon. If the items do not exist on Amazon I will still include them in my list, but lets face it…the world is for sale on Amazon!