‘Don’t let the lights go out — they’ve lasted for so many years.’
I remember a clear evening when families sang together at Hanukkah. We sat outside around the fire, and we were singing softly to Peter, Paul and Mary … the kind of folk song my brother and sister and I grew up listening to on our parents’ records, the kind that call for vigor and human warmth.
We were informal and improvising, guitar chords holding us together and people looking up the next verse. The music moved around the circle, some of them friends I’ve known half my life.
At night in the frost, by firelight, people who cared about each other were feeling our way through the words with a familiar integrity, like a conversation at home, coasting on a closeness that gives room for shared intensity. Kids were running on the lawn in the dusk.
And looking at the stars on a winter night gave a new immediacy to a song about seeing the humanity in people, and holding on. Singing around a fire in the dark has its own kinds of mystery …
And we’re singing music woven for this time of year. How often can we say that now? The world has many traditions among many people, in many faiths and many places, and my ancestors may have known more of their own.
But for me, it’s often at this time of year when I re-encounter music that belongs to the rhythm of a season and to a way of thinking. And I can feel a strength in it. Sharing music with friends can open up time.
It gives us one way of touching what holidays are, spaces when the membrane between day to day and larger cycles of life becomes permeable. Holy has a root in whole and in health. The word holds room for relationship and reflection. And with the right elixir, a heady elation.
I’ve found that feeling in different places — wassailing up Linden Street in the soaking rain with a jug of sweet cider. Watching a room fill with a sea of light, as we sat in the dark and each one of us in turn lit a candle and held it for the person next to us, who made their own choices. And when the light had moved to all of us, voices began singing Silent Night.
Once, when I was home a day or two before the holidays, my family realized the night had begun to snow. We walked up the road where I grew up, zigzagging through fresh powder … and we all started singing. Spontaneously, in a ragged zany chorus, because even then we knew snow on the solstice was becoming rare, and because the warm current we were riding in being together found that release and rolled on through.
Sing we clear …
Music is running through these next few weeks, in informal nights with friends and performers with ties around the world, from wassailers to a Persian shah kaman resonating with 12 strings …