Hands down my favorite Christmas carol is Silent Night. The route to it becoming my favorite Christmas carol is a story in itself.
A few years before my son was born, we had a daughter. She was born within a couple of days of her due date. She was born with multiple birth defects, right around Thanksgiving. She had to endure multiple surgeries–a few within days of her being born. She was hooked up to so much equipment in her little incubator. We had to wait days to hold her, and even then she was so precarious that we could only hold her for a little while. We were in shock and grieving. Only 7 pounds, and so much suffering. But Erin was born with the spunky spirit that she needed. We desperately wanted to take her home. We wanted to have her home for Christmas. She was born with a profound hearing loss (the least of her problems, for sure) but we talked to her all the time, regardless. I would hold her and sing to her…..this was a couple of weeks after some of her surgeries and she was out of the incubator but still in the hospital. As my determination to get her home I would repeatedly sing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” to her. I sang it many times a day, every day.
Two days before Christmas, she got to come home. We were thrilled! Unfortunately, that night, her shunt (in her head) began leaking externally. They had told us their might be some leakage, so at first we weren’t concerned. But the next morning the visiting nurse came, took one look at it, and said she had to go back to the hospital. We were devastated.
Back we went and she needed another surgery. She wasn’t home for Christmas. I grieved. She remained in the hospital for a couple of weeks once again. For the next few months she was regularly in and out of the hospital for more surgeries. When she was 10 months old, she needed another heart surgery. A few days later, she died from a stroke following that surgery. She was 10 months and 5 days old. We were so sad and devastated. She died in September. She never had a Christmas with us at home.
Fast forward a few years. We adopted our baby boy. He was born in June. He was amazingly healthy. His health was robust. I was amazed at how quickly he grew and how strong he was. Every night when I held him and rocked him I would sing 2 songs. Always the same two songs. “Hush little baby” and “Silent Night”. Yes, Silent Night. It didn’t matter that it was months until Christmas. I sang it every night. I wanted him to be there for Christmas. I had a Christmas-sized hole in my heart. In April I realized I had been half holding my breath until my son was 10 months and 6 days old. But I was still worried he wouldn’t be with us for Christmas. In early December he got an ear infection. No worries, antibiotics cleared it up. Before I knew it, it was Christmas. Yes, he was still with us. By now he was talking all the time. He has a joyous and adventurous spirit.
Every night we sang the same 2 songs (Hush little baby, and Silent Night). He may have been the only 2 year old that could hold forth and sing all 3 verses of Silent Night without prompting, hints, or assistance. He never seemed to grow tired of those 2 songs. One of his favorite story books was “Silent Night” by Susan Jeffers. It had the most amazing illustrations.
He loved lying in bed and talking to me as i sat nearby. He wanted just a bit more chit-chat about his day. Then we would have prayer-time of course. Then it was time for the songs. We’d sing them together…”Hush little baby don’t say a word; mama’s gonna buy you a mocking bird…” followed by all 3 verses of Silent Night. I believe that continued until he was about 8, actually. Then all of a sudden he said “Mom—I’m heading to bed; goonight!” Yes it was certainly time. There were no more songfests of the two songs. I was wistful but grateful that the tradition had continued as long as it had.
So Silent Night was and is my favorite Christmas carol. Every time I sing it or hear it I think of the time when my fervent prayer was to have him with us, at home, on Christmas. When we sing it on Christmas eve at Mass you had better believe I weep tears of joy. Joy that our son is with us still. Joy that Christmas was God’s gift to us. “Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia”….
I will no doubt post again about Silent Night. Thank God the organ broke ever so long ago…and the first Christmas Carol written for guitar was written