I got sick of Christmas carols years ago.
Yep, I admit it. When it comes to Christmas carols, I'm a total scrooge. Back home, the Christian radio stations that I listened to usually started playing Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving. At first, they'd sprinkle them in with the other songs, but as Christmas got closer and closer, it became all Christmas music all the time. Each time a Christmas song came on, I'd groan as soon as I recognized it, try to stick it out, give up after the first line or two, and change the station. Christmas was the only time of year when I would listen to secular radio stations more often than to Christian ones, because the secular stations didn't alter their programming as much.
Two years ago, I moved to Maryland and found a local Christian radio station, WGTS. I loved it, as I do most stations that play contemporary Christian music (I'm not such a fan of the old-time hymns, unless they're put to a contemporary beat). But as we approached Christmas, I started steeling myself to find a secular station, maybe a nice country one or one that played a bunch of '80s music. Imagine my surprise when the Christmas music started, and I didn't even notice for the first week! There were no groans, no toughing it out through a line or two, no urges to change the channel. Finally I realized the difference: unlike the stations I had listened to previously, WGTS really maintained its Christian focus during Christmas. Almost all of the Christmas songs it played were truly Christian songs--songs that reflected the true meaning of Christmas, not the secular, commercialized thing we've made it. There were a few secular carols played--an announcement from management candidly stated that some traditional carols that had no real Christian content were played so that people flipping through the dials looking for carols might just stop and stay for another song or two--but the real focus was on celebrating the birth of Jesus. There was lots of "Silent Night," "O Come O Come Emmanuel," and contemporary Christian songs that had Christmas themes. There were not so many renditions of "Jingle Bells" or "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." The traditional secular songs were present, but they were a fun supplement to, not a replacement for, songs that were about the Christmas I celebrate. And I found myself enjoying Christmas music again.
This year, in Egypt, I wasn't sure what to expect. Truth be told, I didn't even think about Christmas music until we started singing it at church in Advent celebrations. With my history, I had no reason to think about Christmas music unless it was to be thankful that "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" wouldn't be piped over the speakers at every store I visited! But then Jeff and I were invited to a neighbor's apartment for hors d'ouevres and a caroling performance. My neighbors' maid is a part of her church choir, and she wanted her choir to come caroling for her employers. Last year, the first year that this happened, my neighbors ended up embarrassed because they didn't understand what caroling meant to their maid; they thought it was a group of people going around, standing outside, singing a song or two, and then moving on, like it is back in the States. Oh, no, not with this group. Caroling meant the choir came to your home, set up in your living room, and delivered a 30-minute performance, complete with choir director and guitar. Last year, this big production occurred with an audience of three, and my neighbors felt a bit awkward and embarrassed that they hadn't gathered an appropriately large audience.
This year was very different. There were around 12 guests present, as well as my three neighbors (a married couple with one child). We all showed up around 6pm for drinks and hors d'ouevres, and the choir came at 7. They arranged themselves in the living room, while we guests set ourselves up in the dining room (two separate areas of one big room). The choir director introduced the group as the "Christ is Coming Choir," and the caroling began. I loved every minute of it! The songs were almost all Christian, as you would expect from a church choir, but there were fun, lively songs, too, not just the slow and sentimental ones. The singers' faces were lit up with joyful smiles. At times there was a little choreographed hand-waving, which was fun, too. In between songs, they quoted Scripture verses about Jesus, His birth, and His mission. Toward the end, the choir director talked about how Jesus is coming back, and how she hopes that we'll all be ready when that day comes--but there was no proselytizing, which is illegal here; it was all about what she believes and what she hopes. She sang "Maranatha," a song I'd never heard before but enjoyed immensely. (Maranatha is Aramaic for our Lord comes.) At the end of that song, the choir immediately went into "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," and then the concert was over.
After the choir left, our host and hostess expressed surprise at how overt the Christian message was. Apparently, last year, the performance involved more traditional carols and fewer Bible verses. I know at least one other person in the audience (aside from Jeff and me) goes to church regularly, but I don't think that most of the people there would describe themselves as devout Christians. So I can see where this unabashedly Christian performance could take them off guard. But to me, it was exactly what a performance of Christmas carols ought to be. It was a group of believers singing about their Savior at a time of year when we celebrate His birth. It actually made me consider downloading some Christmas music from iTunes.
Tonight, my life group is going caroling. There's this British woman who lives nearby. She's in her 80s and has lived in Egypt for decades. She doesn't get out of her house much, because she's blind--anyone who's tried to walk around in Maadi knows that it can be difficult to keep your footing even if you can see; I can't imagine trying to walk around here without being able to see traffic, the precise location of the curb, or that random pole in the middle of the sidewalk. One of the ladies in my life group visits her once a week or so, and the visits are greatly appreciated. So tonight, we're all going. I just hope that our performance is as uplifting for her as the Christ is Coming Choir's performance was for me.