I was a singer when I was young. I sang in a girls’ choir that traveled the world – we sang in China and Japan, Scandinavia and Canada and around the United States. The choir even went to the South Pacific, but I was too young to go (I’m still bitter about it). After that, I sang with a quartet in college, doing the occasional wedding and funeral – mostly funerals. And when I studied at the University of Sevilla, I made money singing show tunes to old men in a local bar with a ludicrously old piano player. They loved my performance of “Hello Dolly”, for example. Also, “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”, which, of course is not a show tune at all, but I like singing it, so there. For that, I got paid in tips and cigarettes and free drinks, which unfortunately, fed my addiction to cigarettes. Smoking is murder on the voice. Don’t ever start. I haven’t smoked in over twelve years now, thank god, but there are…. lingering effects. For example: I now, alas, I kinda suck at singing.
I only sing to my kids. (They hate it.) And to drunken strangers at karaoke. (They may also hate it, but it’s hard to tell.) And, once a year, to a bunch of my neighbors and friends at our yearly holiday party.
The holidays are stressful, they really are. Especially for moms. We perpetuate the Santa Ruse, even when it’s killing us. We fuss over who is getting what. We strive for balance. We look at our check registers and weep. We keep the tree watered and plan for our kids’ teachers’ gifts and try to minimize expectations while inexplicably heightening them. We run ourselves ragged.
I do the same. I tell myself every year that it will be different. I always lie.
But one day, in the run-up towards the holidays, we sing. Actually, I am super bossy when it comes to the singing, making sure that everyone participates. I have a zero-tolerance policy for non-singers.
And here’s the thing: I’m a sucker for holiday music. Actually, no, scratch that: I’m a sucker for music in general. Get a bunch of people in a room singing together, and I get all misty. Get a bunch of people who all love each other in a room and have them sing? I cry like a friggin’ baby. And holiday music is unique. When we sing the songs that we sang when we were young, I think we’re actually singing to our younger selves. And in the case of holiday music, we are singing to our hopeful selves, our wondering selves, and yes, sometimes our grabby, selfish selves too. But it’s the wonder that’s delighting me now. It’s the wonder that stays.
And so we sing. We throw back our heads and close our eyes and forget the words and make new ones up. We shove food into our mouths and lubricate our inhibitions with wine and curl our arms around eachother’s waists and sing of cold nights and crying infants and deep snow. We sing of sparks of light in a dark, dark world. We sing of bullied reindeer and wandering magi and ill-planned sleigh rides and tiny gifts hidden in the house, as proof that the world still cares about us. That we are worth caring about. That the world can, and is, and will be, saved.
Tonight, I will sing to the cold. I will sing to the warm hearts gathered. I will sing to the wounded world. And I will sing to you. Sit very, very still, and you might hear it.
I’ll be the one singing off-key.