Catherine Massey, Director of Music
During these Thanksgiving holidays at home we had a Christmas-themed reality show—Holiday Home Makeover—on TV in the background while we played cards. While we mostly didn’t care for the decorations chosen by the host, we did think he got one makeover just right. A religious Jewish family with three boys and another on the way wanted to honor their Hannukah celebrations but also bring in elements of Christmas in their décor. The dad had grown up Christian and had happy childhood memories of Christmas trees and traditions. When we heard this scenario we knew exactly where it should go: Focus on light and natural beauty. And that’s what “Mr. Christmas” did. I wondered if he had gone to a Unitarian Universalist church for inspiration.
Being Unitarian Universalists, we are able to draw from commonalities in the various sources of our faith, and in December they nearly always come together in the form of light: Hannukah lights, the return of sunlight at the Solstice, and the candlelight on Christmas Eve. Our music and hymns gather these images and the hope they convey, helping us make our way through our hemisphere’s darker time. This December our services honor Planet Earth, offer comfort to those who struggle with this season, celebrate the Winter Solstice, Yule, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Hannukah. One of my favorite stories from a Unitarian Universalist colleague in Massachusetts was when she overheard two congregants talking after a service. One said, “It’s just not Christmas until we sing that Hannukah song!”
One of the most beautiful hymns for the season comes from a Unitarian Universalist composer, the late Shelley Jackson Denham: “Dark of Winter” (#55 in Singing the Living Tradition). Here are her words:
“Dark of winter, soft and still, your quiet calm surrounds me.
Let my thoughts go where they will, ease my mind profoundly.
And then my soul will sing a song, a blessed song of love eternal.
Gentle darkness, soft and still, bring your quiet to me.
Darkness, soothe my weary eyes, that I may see more clearly.
When my heart with sorrow cries, comfort and caress me.
And then my soul may hear a voice, a still, small voice of love eternal.
Darkness, when my fears arise, let your peace flow through me.”
Taking time to let the darkness in, even while we bring in the light that we long for, is key. I have learned this through many years of busy seasons of holiday music in our church—not just to sing of joy, but of the quiet peace that is possible. Our choir sings an anthem by Mark Patterson with a refrain that goes this way: “There are symphonies that surround you when the hush of evening comes. Will you see them? Will you hear them? Be still, look up and listen.” May you have a season of calm wisdom, knowing that the lights of our holidays surround us.