Olden times and ancient rhymes

Published 9:27 am Saturday, December 24, 2016

Perhaps like me, you associate Christmas as much with the accompanying sounds as the other senses — the colored lights on trees, the unmistakable scent of peppermint, the heft of wrapped boxes and the savory/salty/sweet flavors competing on the dinner table.
My earliest memory of music for the season was formed when my parents, brother and I were traveling with our grandpa back in the mid-1960s. One night we stayed at a hotel in Baltimore, Maryland. My mother called me to the bathroom, where she had opened a small window all the better to hear unseen carolers. I listened, trying to hear the words. It could have been “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” but that’s not important. I knew just enough about those songs to identify them with the upcoming Dec. 25. No instruments other than their voices could be heard to repeat the sounding joy.
In Charles Schulz’ “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the central character worries that he’s missing the point of the day. Remember? Charlie Brown tells Linus, “Christmas is coming, and I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”
Likely you and I can well relate. All businesses, churches, civic groups and schools seem to conspire to make us experience some almost ineffable emotion. But what should it be: Calm, glee, hilarity or serenity?
Matters aren’t helped when shopping malls blare carols till they become as indistinguishable to our ears as the mass of faces we see on one another.
Allow me to suggest limiting your time at those venues to minimize the sensory overload.
I digress. During the TV special, the Peanuts gang is skating on a pond. They’re singing “Christmas Time Is Here.”
A notable verse:
Snowflakes in the air
Carols everywhere
Olden times and ancient rhymes
Of love and dreams to share
I can hear it now.
God bless the songwriters Lee Mendelson and Vince Guaraldi. Their music for that show trumps all. Thurl Ravenscroft singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” gets second place, but let’s not fight about it.
The aforementioned memory and the verse above cause me to wonder about the first people to sing those songs of hope and wonder. They weren’t wishing for Santa Claus, his debut was centuries away. They were anticipating what that humble baby’s birth meant for them and the rest of the world. Their songs were indeed of “olden times and ancient rhymes of love and dreams to share.”
My hope for you is that whether or not you are believer, that music is an important part of your life this season and all year round.

STEPHEN H. COWLES is a staff writer at The Tidewater News. His other favorite Christmas song is “Coventry Carol” as sung by Alison Moyet. Contact him at stephen.cowles@tidewaternews.com or 562-3187.