It’s a rainy “winter” day (currently a bone-chilling 57f) here in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles as I sit cozily in my little Perks wi-fi cafe and look out the window at the gray sky and the drops of water making little splashes on the pavement of the strip-mall parking lot full of glistening wet cars. The owner Gayle has told her staff to regale their customers with a satellite radio channel that plays all Christmas songs all the time. Though I enjoy a lot of the songs (some bringing back fond memories of the holidays from my youth) it can wear on you after an hour or so when they start repeating “Jingle Bell Rock”.
One of the schmaltzier classics caught my ear this morning, “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, sung by perhaps Bing Crosby. The specific lyric was…
Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king,
“Do you know what I know?
In your palace warm, mighty king,
Do you know what I know?
A Child, a Child shivers in the cold–
Let us bring him silver and gold,
Let us bring him silver and gold.”
It brought up memories of my mom (she died in 2006) who had a great love for everything that had to do with Christmas, and particularly the figure of Santa Claus and what he symbolized in terms of celebrating and honoring children. She believed in God (unlike me) but was not much for organized religion. Given that, she still enjoyed even the Christian celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus, and the bestowing on him of great gifts, seeing it as a metaphor for how all people should greet and treat our children with an abundance of love.
I am recalling my mom this morning and all the unique currents that made her her, including her zealous advocacy for honoring and even listening to children. Her mantra was “Bright kids will tell you what they need”, but I don’t recall her ever meeting a kid who she didn’t think was “bright”. I still thank her every day for that wonderful gift that was her parenting style, that gave me the liberty to chart my own course but with all the loving and thoughtful support, and enriched environment, that I could want.
Anyway… back to the song. I looked it up on the Internet and found a site called “Christmas World” with the lyrics, prefaced by a brief introduction…
‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ is a popular Christmas carol. Its lyrics are simple and its catchy tune makes it a favorite among adults and kids alike. It uses imagery from the nativity scene and describes how everyone and even the forces of Nature rejoiced at the birth of Jesus Christ.
I had to smile but shake my head when I read that intro. If you look at the lyrics of the song there is no explicit reference to Jesus, just the implicit biblical context of the star, shepherds, kings and gifts. When my mom and I sang that song nearly half a century ago, I quickly picked up her “spin”… let’s celebrate every child that’s born!
Ours was a truly egalitarian framing that all children come into this world with that spark of the divine that could just possibly “bring us goodness and light”. Rather than the hierarchical/patriarchal framing (suggested by the “Christmas World” site intro) of the one special “Child” (with a capital “C”) who, unlike the rest of the muggle newborns, will enlighten us.
And further, it was not lost on me this morning that the poor shepherd boy in the song (probably a slave in that day and age) has the temerity to address the “mighty” king and speak truth to power. This child (with no business speaking without being spoken to any adult let alone a king) reminding that powerful patriarch that instead of sitting warm, smug and unknowing in his palace, he should be honoring the birth of a human child, following the Golden Rule, showering that child with gifts that it may grow up and return the blessing and then some.
In the mythology of the song at least, the monarch “gets it”, goes back to his palace to dispatch all his heralds…
Said the king to the people everywhere,
“Listen to what I say!
Pray for peace, people, everywhere,
Listen to what I say!
The Child, the Child sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light,
He will bring us goodness and light.”
Framing the song thus this morning I had to grin. There’s hope for us humans!