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What Christmas MUSIC Means to Me

Don't even attempt to contemplate a mental picture of me wrapping Christmas gifts or preparing holiday cakes, cookies, pies, and candies without holiday music playing in the background. It just won't happen. The activities, tastes, smells, and sounds are bound together and have been since I was a young child.

The first present I can remember ever receiving from Santa was a small record player with one record. Santa must not have thought that through or else his budget was unusually slim that year. At any rate, "Johnny Had an Apple on a Stick" and the flip side of "Jimmy Crack Corn" played incessantly that Christmas Day and became a part of our family memories.

When I started taking piano lessons, I couldn't wait to be proficient enough to play "Silent Night" (in the key of C) and "Away in a Manger" (in the key of F). I deemed those to be attainable and played them proudly for anyone who would listen.

Both sides of my family were musical. My dad and his mother played by ear -- Dad usually in the key of D-flat for some odd reason. They mesmerized me with their ability to hear a song once and go straight to the piano and play it. My Granddaddy Rose sang tenor in the church choir and sacrificed to provide music lessons and band instruments for his children. My mother's go-to pieces, even years after she stopped taking lessons, were "The Skater's Waltz" and "Sentimental Journey." I can still picture her satisfaction in remembering those notes. My mother's family gathered on Christmas night EVERY year of my life. (This year it has been canceled because of COVID concerns, and that makes all of us sad. It has been a 70+ year-long tradition). In addition to consuming copious amounts of great homecooked casseroles and desserts, we spent a lot of time gathered around the piano singing every carol we could think of. I was thrilled when I was finally old enough to be the one at the piano. My Uncle George Rose (better known in Athens as radio personality "Cousin Josh") had an amazing voice. How special to hear him sing "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas." Oh my.

Steve and I passed along the habit of playing Christmas music as soon as Thanksgiving was over. One Christmas night when we were returning from the big family gathering, we heard Laura crying in the back seat. She was heartbroken that she "wouldn't hear anymore Christmas music until next year." Bless her sweet, tender heart. Music was/is a heart language for her, too.

Once I was married with my shiny, hard-earned music degree, I was asked to play for church, and I started teaching piano lessons. That meant that every December was packed with recitals and special programs. While I was organist at Central Baptist in Decatur, we had a longstanding tradition of presenting the "Living Christmas Tree." So many rehearsals. So much wonderful music. When we lived in Athens and I was in the Celebration Choir, they had a tradition of "An Athens Christmas." So many rehearsals. So much wonderful music. The year that will always be an extraordinary memory was 2012 when the church rented 2 concert grand pianos to go with 2 already at the church, and four of us got to play a multi-piano program. An absolute THRILL for me. (Photos courtesy of Ken Cox. Thank you, Ken!)

Then, of course, there were the 17 years I was a public school music teacher. Every December meant a huge PTO program. During that time, I imagine we sang every Christmas song ever written, except for "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer." I drew a line with that one. But, in the little-known facts department, that song was first recorded by a man named Dr. Elmo Shropshire who graduated from veterinary school at Auburn. Who knew?

Just today while I was making fudge, "Must Be Santa" came on and I tried to describe to Steve the challenge of teaching that song and how we added a new motion to go with every verse. The same was true of "The 12 Days of Christmas." :) Red and green shirts, Santa hats, reindeer antlers and lots of jingle bells were guaranteed to be seen and heard, and I still can't believe I convinced then-Hartselle Junior High principal, Frank Parker to dress as Santa while he and his wife Melanie acted out "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" -- complete with the kiss!!! A real Hallmark moment!

Yesterday I got a text from daughter Julie that she and her family of 10 children will be singing "O Little Town of Bethlehem" for their church's virtual Christmas Eve service with granddaughter Margaret accompanying on the piano. You can't imagine how that pleases Steve and me.

I could go on for hours with Christmas music memories, but I'm sure you get the idea. It's not Christmas without music, and that's completely appropriate and Biblical. After all, the birth of Jesus on that very first Christmas was announced by a choir of angels.

Luke 2:8-14 -- And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

You and I both know that if those angels were praising, they were SINGING! Turn on the music, friends. It has been a bleak year, but we can still praise God for the gift of His Son.

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