December 21, 2012

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Music expresses the joy of Advent and Christmas

Sean GallagherThe seasons of Advent and Christmas are filled with symbols of our faith.

Advent wreaths, Christmas trees, lights, garland and gifts closely connected to these seasons—even in our secular culture—are important signs through which we can joyfully express our love for the Christ Child.

The music of the season is especially important to me. Some of my fondest and clearest memories of Advent and Christmas from my childhood are bound in music.

I can easily conjure up images of singing Advent hymns and Christmas carols at Mass, and hearing a variety of holiday songs playing on our record player at home.

When I was growing up, my mom would play Christmas albums by The Kingston Trio, The Lettermen and The Clancy Brothers that she probably bought in the early 1960s.

I’ve found CDs and YouTube videos of most of the songs that I share with my sons.

I’ve also bought Christmas albums that I’ve discovered on my own. One of my favorites is a solo piano jazz recording by the recently deceased Dave Brubeck that he made in the mid-1990s.

A Christmas album recorded by Pat Gallagher, a cousin who lives in Nashville, Tenn., is a favorite of my sons. They especially love ‘Whatcha Waitin’ for Christmas” that features a hound dog howling at the end.

My boys have also become familiar with far older—and a bit more serious—Advent and Christmas music, such as the beautiful “O Antiphons” (the basis of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”) and “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”—an ancient chant hymn that is my favorite Christmas hymn.

Michael and Raphael—at 10 and 7 the oldest sons of my wife, Cindy, and me—have added a new dimension to the sounds of the season in our home by their fledgling attempts to play “Jingle Bells” on our piano.

A few months ago, they started taking piano lessons, and it’s been a joy for Cindy and me to see them start to express themselves musically and nurture the gifts given to them by God.

Advent is said to be a season of joyful waiting for the coming of Christ. And when we do celebrate his coming at Christmas, that joy is only increased.

It’s fitting then that music should have a cherished place in our observance of these seasons since music allows us to express a joy that cannot be contained in words alone.

Maybe that’s why I play these old albums and an even older chant for my sons.

I want their own lives of faith to overflow with joy now and throughout the year. And I believe that joyful Advent and Christmas music, both new and old, is a tool to make that dream a reality.

This music also renews that joy within me when the daily duties of being a husband and father can drown out the joy that we as Catholic Christians are called to exude.

In actuality, we’re called to have and share that joy in the midst of life’s challenges. Christian joy isn’t some pipe dream of life devoid of difficulties.

It can often be expressed by a kind of smiling serenity where we make others wonder what makes us different, which is just a question away from an opportunity to evangelize.

The joy of our tradition’s Advent and Christmas music can also be a means to bring ourselves and others closer to Christ. So sing out a faith-filled joy this Christmas! †

Local site Links: