A Christmas Song for a world on fire…

I really enjoy Christmas music. Even though I get frustrated when I hear holiday melodies before Thanksgiving Halloween, the familiar songs fill me with warm nostalgia. My memories of Christmas and Advent are good memories. My house would be filled with the smell of tamales and baked goods. Lights and nativity scenes would appear. Records that laid dormant for a year would be pulled out and played after dinner. Church would echo with carols and hymns to the coming celebration of the Christ child.

I have my old favorites: The Little Drummer Boy (specifically the one with Bing Crosby and David Bowie), O Come All Ye Faithful, Carol of the Bells. And I have some new ones. But my most favorite Christmas song is Do You Hear What I Hear? It breaks me every time in all the ways I need to be broken for the Holiday season; toward hope, giving, forgiving. Most importantly toward peace in a time overcome with the threat of destruction.

The song’s creators, Gloria Baker and Noël Regney, wrote the song in 1962 while the world was reeling from the Cuban Missile Crisis. And after it was recorded by Bing Crosby in 1963, it quickly spread across the world. Baker and Regney’s message was prophetically powerful in a time that needed a message of hope. Which is probably why I have always gravitated toward this simple Christmas classic. It reminds me to live in hopefulness.

The song, like the Nativity story, is subversive. It begins with a message whispered from creation to people on the margins: “Do you see what I see?” “Do you hear what I hear?” And then from the margins to the powers that be: “Do you know what I know?” How I long for those of the halls of power to suddenly realize that out in the freezing night, there are children who need silver and gold; who are homeless and hungry and in poverty. For the wealthy to realize that these children will bring goodness and light. For our leaders to announce peace; turning away from greed, racism, and bigotry.

55 years later, Do You Hear What I Hear? is in the background of a Holiday Season set amid chaos. I am clinging to it in desperation. I want some small whisper in the night wind. I want a voice bigger than all the hate in the world. I want an intervention, reminding the world: “Glory to God in the highest, peace on Earth, and good will to all!

This last Sunday, one of the children at my church came up to me and asked, “Do you want to know something?” I nodded with a smile. He told me, “God is everything. In the wind. In the trees. In the world. In you. In me.” I asked him how that made him feel. He smiled at me and said, “It makes me very happy.”

Do you hear what I hear?

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What Christmas is (supposedly) about…

Seriously, making
Seriously, making beer is hard work…

For the past seven years of our marriage, Heather and I have given alternative gifts for Christmas. Usually we make donations to non-profit organizations in the name of friends and family. This year, we’re adding home crafted items to the mix. Heather is making tasty treats, we have quite a few bottles of homemade raspberry wine, and I have some home roasted coffee and homebrew that will be given out.

Ok, I may have purchased a few presents... but they're VERY functional.
Ok, I may have purchased a few presents… but they’re VERY functional.

It’s not that we’re anti-capitalist or don’t believe in the spirit of Christmas. Gift giving is an important human ritual that solidifies relationships and strengthens bonds. We also haven’t gone native and decided that a hipster Christmas is better. I just believe modern American gift giving is redundant in our instant gratification society. My friends pretty much have everything they really NEED, and within my modest budget, they already have everything they really WANT. I also don’t want to add to their “stuff.” (Which I am decidedly against)

That’s why donating money to deserving organizations was a no brainer. We take the money we would otherwise have spent on stupid stuff and allow that money to make the world a better place. It’s like paying Christmas forward. Our intent is to honor our loved ones with a gesture of charity. This year, we’ve chosen three organizations which we believe are making positive contributions to our home in Seattle, our home in Las Vegas, and to the overall world.

Man, I may have to be naughty this year...
At least it’s local?

The crafted items for this Christmas happen to be byproducts of where we live. Seattle inspires people to make local, and the more homemade the better. While we are far from knitting beanies sheared from our backyard herd of sheep, it’s pretty awesome to give a bottle of wine made from raspberries grown in our garden, fermented in our home, and bottled in our kitchen. (Hopefully the wine is good–it won’t be ready to open until August 2014!) I’ve also been making some pretty decent homebrew and I haven’t met a coffee drinker who doesn’t like fresh roasted coffee. The best part is, we made these things by hand: we’re not only giving a product, but our time and passion. Now THAT’S love.

It really is the gift that keeps giving...
It really is the gift that keeps giving…

My belief in gift giving works both ways, too.  There are only a few things I really want for Christmas. First, I want people to donate. It doesn’t have to be in my or Heather’s name. Just do it. Find a great organization you believe in and drop them a Benjamin or volunteer some time. I will enjoy that a lot more than any DVD or collector’s edition velvet Elvis. If you MUST get me a thing, then get me something I can eat or drink. Small batch craft spirits are a great choice, but so are rare beers, coffee, and chocolate. Heck, make me a tray of smoked chocolate coffee cardamom brownies.

Best gift ever.
Best gift ever.

Really, make me some of those brownies. Pretty please. With sprinkles.

In any case, just rethink your gift giving. Consider what you REALLY want/need. The world is already filled with too much stupid crap and there are too many people who need things like food, shelter, clothing and most importantly, love. Which is what this season is supposed to be about, right?