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Jingle Bell Rocked

Here are the seasons of autumn at my house.

The last day of September through the 20th of November comprises Walker birthday season: all four of us plus my sister in seven weeks. It’s fun when it starts and by the end, we are hanging on by our fingernails. Then come between two and eight days to reset for Thanksgiving (I think of this as my family’s version of Ordinary Time). The day after Thanksgiving, we typically help my mother-in-law decorate her home in eastern NC for Christmas, and for some years that has served as my wake up call into Advent and its concurrent “holiday” season. It still feels like an early alarm, but over time I’ve begun getting used to it.

What to make, then, of driving to our church’s marathon water stop on November 17 and encountering all-Christmas-songs-all-the-time on the first two radio stations I tried? Not even out of birthday season, not to mention Ordinary Time and Thanksgiving, not a single box of decorations down from the attic. Startling, disorienting, unwanted. Where does the line form to dispense gripes and snark? Or some good ol’ righteous indignation: “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…” – not in the Philippines, it isn’t! “Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?” – no, because I’m turning your market-driven, gotta-be-first-with-the-most radio station OFF.

In the days that followed, I considered – without soundtrack – my experience of Advent and Christmas, the cranky parts and the parts I cherish. And that which I cherish – the comfort and warmth of friends and family, enjoying an abundance of food and gifts, the traditional music (sung in an appropriate time-frame) – seems at odds with important dynamics of the coming of Jesus. His story IS startling (even in the short phrases we mouth from the Apostles’ Creed: conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered… crucified… buried… rose again…), and our warm fuzzy feelings around scenes of the Nativity give little indication that Jesus was sent to turn the world upside down – to make the last first.

Those songs on the radio in mid-November: hard to imagine they are being played with any thought of bringing light to a dim world, of preparing the way for the Lord. But perhaps in the way they startle, in the way I’m tugged out of my familiar, comfortable rhythms, in how their persistent, jangling presence says in an unwanted but unmissable way “Get ready!” – perhaps they are delivering a message that I would not hear in all the old familiar places.

‘Tis the season –

Alfred Walker

Critical comments notwithstanding, Alfred has performed many of the works currently playing on your radio, since the mid-1980s (and always after Thanksgiving) with his band Triple Scoop. Across the years, his favorite to play has remained “Blue Christmas”.

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