Happy Christmas Eve! The holiday that is all about the excitement of one last long night before a new day. And we have Hindi songs for that!
Since Christmas is a winter solstice festival (let’s be real here, the baby was just grafted on at the last minute two thousand years ago), it is getting through the longest night before the new day that is the oldest part of the celebration. Although the baby is important too, since the night a baby is born is always a very long night.
For so the children come
And so they have been coming.
Always in the same way they come
Born of the seed of man and woman.
No angels herald their beginnings,
no prophets predict their future courses.
No wise men see a star to show
where to find the babe
that will save humankind.
Yet each night a child is born is a holy night,
Fathers and mothers —
Sitting beside their children’s cribs
Feel glory in the sight of a new life beginning.
They ask, “Where and how will this new life end?
Or will it ever end?”
Each night a child is born is a holy night —
A time for singing,
A time for wondering,
A time for worshiping.-Sophia Lyon Fahs
From my Germanic roots, we would light up the Christmas tree with candles on Christmas Eve night, have an enormous family dinner, go to a midnight candle light service and sing “Silent Night” in German just as the clock struck midnight, then go home and open presents. That’s what my Grandpa did, and he hated it, because all his “normal” and “American” friends would open presents on Christmas morning, and he had to explain that his family did presents in the middle of the night for some reason. He also had to sit next to the tree with a bucket of sand in case the candles caught it on fire. It was a stressful night for him.
When my parents were growing up, Christmas Eve and Christmas day were kind of equal. In my Mom’s house, her parents for years would do the tree on Christmas Eve night (just like in olden times) and not before. And in my father’s house, they would go over to his Grandparents for the big Christmas Eve combined family party, and then be home on Christmas Day for the smaller family party. And at midnight they would both go to their respective churches and sing “Silent Night” in German.
By my generation, we did Christmas like “normal” “Americans”, the tree was up all December, Santa brought us presents on Christmas morning, and so on. But (with much complaining and misery), our parents would still drag us out into the cold at 11pm on Christmas Eve night so we could walk to the nearest church and do the midnight candlelight service. And sometimes sing the German “Silent Night” on the way there or the way home.
Anyway, now we are old and churches don’t do midnight services. Have you noticed that? We are having a harder and harder time finding a church in walking distance that does a real midnight service, not a fake 9pm one. The closest I could find this year was about 3 miles away. But somehow at some point the Christmas Eve gathering/dinner became more important than the Christmas evening one. Maybe because presents aren’t such a big deal? Maybe because it is more about being all together for one evening and one morning and one night?
So this year, my parents are singing at our church’s 4:30pm service (children today are weak! WEAK! In my day, you got dragged out, sleepy and cold, in the middle of the night. You didn’t just go to the easy happy 4:30 pre-dinner service!). And then they are coming over to my place and we are having dinner with candlelight and flowers, and gathering around my (fake) Christmas tree and watching the (fake) fire on my TV as we wait for the night to pass and the morning to come.
And to help us all wait through this night, I have a collection of songs about night and waiting.
A sad one, because sometimes it’s a sad night. “Raat Hamari Toh”
One about the surprising magic and intimacy of night, “Raat Ki Hateli”
One that’s fun and full of joy and light, “Jumme Ki Raat”
One that is sad, but also determined and hopeful, “Raat Ka Nasha”
And of course, “Aaj Ki Raat”. Excitement, change, anything can happen and tomorrow will be a new world.