If you know the old English carol, you’ll recognize the source of today’s title. When I was a child, I loved it for its strange, wild melody as much as for its words. Then there was a Christmas, years ago, when The Oxford Book of Carols was a much-requested present … and when I discovered a whole world of joyful songs, so different from the nineteenth- and twentieth-century, professionally composed tunes and lyrics that get defined as “Christmas carols” today … and that seem to be played relentlessly, 24 hours a day, in every store – and almost every radio station – from mid-November through The Day Itself.
To be fair, I love a lot of those songs, too. They bring warm, happy memories of relatives who loved them, friends who sang together, presents chosen not for the money or the statement but because someone needed or longed for them. There’s something really deep and important about the act of giving – giving from the heart, not just “because it’s Christmas” or “because it’s X’s birthday,” but because you care for X and know that X will really appreciate this thing you’ve found. I think it’s tied up with the community between you and X. It’s like those old English carols, created and polished by a community of singers through the centuries, which speak to something deep and profound about the little villages where they’ve been sung for all these years.
Community is important, whether it’s the geographic kind that produced those old carols, the blood-and-kinship-based kind that gathers for many holiday celebrations this time of year, or the friendship-based kind that leads you to scour stores – or spend long hours – finding or making a present that’s just right. Community isn’t perfect, of course, and any of these three forms can all too easily become oppressive instead of sustaining, miserable rather than joyful. I don’t think we ought to forget that, even on the most joyful days.
But community, at its best, is a source of both comfort and joy for its members. At our best, we come together to build something deeper, more meaningful, more lasting than just ourselves. And on this day, on all days, I wish my readers both comfort and joy. If you’re celebrating as I am today, or if it’s just another day. If you’re with those you love most, or apart from them. If you’re traveling, or safe at home. If you’re surrounded by abundance, or not. Just by writing and reading these words, we’re all bound together in some form of community, however loose-knit or transient. So I wish you all comfort for any pains and sorrows and joy in your journeys, and a renewed chance to build meaning together in the days to come.