For my Open Salon friends, a plate of cookies, and a partial re-post of a story that includes my favorite Christmas carol.
I truly love Christmas and Christmas songs, both sacred and secular. Some of my dearest childhood memories are of turning out the lamps in the living room, plugging in the lights on the Christmas tree and singing along with Mitch Miller or Robert Shaw, the discs spinning on my parents' stereo. Mitch, with his goatee and Santa hat, was quite handy to have around because the album sleeve came with copies of the lyrics - knowing that the day would come when I would need to know all of the words to "Must be Santa," I diligently studied the words.
If I had to pick one song that just makes my holiday, it would have to be "Betelehemu," a Nigerian choral work arranged by Wendell Whalum, long-time director of the Morehouse Glee Club. (Morehouse is the historically black college in Atlanta, whose famous alumni include Martin Luther King, Jr. and Spike Lee).
I first heard "Betelehemu" at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus' annual Christmas concert, the signature work and Christmas gift from the legendary Robert Shaw. Midway through the Christmas program, the musicians and singers looked to stage left with expectation as the Morehouse Glee Club delivered its rendition of "Betelehemu." It starts out with traditional African percussion and near the end, a solo.
"We are glad that we have a Father to trust.
We are glad that we have a Father to rely upon
Where was Jesus born?
Where was He born?
Bethlehem, the city of wonder.
That is where the Father was born for sure.
Praise, praise, praise be to Him.
We thank thee, we thank Thee, we thank Thee for this day,
Praise, praise, praise be to Thee,
It's not too difficult to put into words what I like about this song. It's joy. From-the-tips-of-my-toes to the top of my head joy. Hearing "Betelehemu" seals my faith - the worldwide community of believers, past and present, who know the saving power of the love of God. It's about the longing for a Savior and the thankfulness for answered prayers. It's about the baby born in Bethlehem, but maybe you've never heard it expressed quite like this:
I hope you like the clip - it's the Morehouse Glee Club performing "Betelehemu" at 1991's Kennedy Center Honors for Robert Shaw. It's nice to see Shaw's reaction to the performance. (Mr. Shaw died in January 1999, but the ASO Christmas program that he created is an Atlanta tradition, still performed each Christmas season.)
And before you head out back into the cold, a cup of cheer, or perhaps a jar of peach whiskey cheer. Here in Georgia, there's talk of a white Christmas, and you'll need just a little something to keep you warm. (The whiskey is from my story on Southern Succor in August - good things come to those who wait.)
May your Christmas be full of blessings,
Text and image © 2010, Lucy Mercer.
Video clip is from Youtube.