Songs of the season

Songs of the season

Every year at midnight, the exultant strains of 'Joy to the World' would reverberate.

“I  love cakes and carols, don’t you?” said a young colleague of mine. I smilingly replied that at my age edible treats did not excite me, but I would never outgrow my fondness for Christmas carols.

I listen to them on CDs, at home and in my car. I hear them borne on the breeze from neighbouring apartments and rendered by city choirs. I particularly enjoy singing carols at my church, in the four-week countdown (Advent in the Christian calendar) to Christmas. When the great day dawns, and I unite with family and friends in melodious worship, I remember the church of my childhood.

Every year at midnight, as the 24th of December gave way to the 25th, the exultant strains of ‘Joy to the World’ would reverberate through the Cathedral Church of the Redemption, New Delhi.

Far back in the 1930s, the construction of that magnificent edifice, in India’s brand-new capital, was supervised by Lord Irwin. After the end of his tenure as Viceroy, his successors benefitted from the cathedral’s proximity to the vice-regal residence, now Rashtrapathi Bhavan.

At the present time, foreign diplomats, who are so inclined, attend services at the cathedral. A familiar figure on Sundays, in the 1990s, was Sir Nicholas Fenn, High Commissioner of the United Kingdom. I had long since moved to Bangalore, but my husband and I were at the Delhi cathedral on Christmas eve, 1995.

Sir Nicholas was one of a group, collecting the offerings of the hundreds assembled. Marching down the aisle, he joined enthusiastically in the congregational carol, ‘O Come All Ye
Faithful’. His beaming face, which was a contrast to the solemn expressions of the rest of his team, embodied the sparkling spirit of Christmas.

Sadly, for millions around the world, Christmas seems to offer no hope. Among the regions ravaged by conflict is the birthplace of Christ. In 2009, my brother was singing alongside me at his church in Mumbai, when he suddenly stopped in the middle of ‘Silent Night’. Pointing to some words in my hymnbook, he said softly, “The Holy Land, these days, is not ‘calm and bright’. We must go there before the growing unrest in those parts makes travel difficult.”

The following October, my husband, my brother and I had the privilege of visiting Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem. In a cave beneath the basilica, a silver star embedded in the floor marks the site where Jesus is believed to have been born. As I prayed where pilgrims have knelt through the centuries, I recalled these lovely lines: “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed/ The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.” It is the simplest of carols and the first I learnt. It has remained with me all these decades, like the other songs of the season.

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