“O Holy Night” is my favorite Christmas carol. I used to play it over and over again on my parents’ living room console while I wrapped endless gifts for my mom. She would bring streams of white boxes out of her bedroom with names written in the corner in her perfect nun-like penmanship – Maureen, Tim, Sue, Mike, Therese, Frankie, Bobby, Eileen, Nancy and Danny. I never opened a box because I wanted to be in on the surprises. I can’t remember anything that was inside, but I remember the warmth and peace of the simple task of wrapping. My sister Therese was a wrapper at Marshall Fields when she was in high school, so I was taught by a pro. I loved the rhythm and the privilege of being in the dining room, a room reserved for special occasions. And I had a perfect view of the Christmas tree in the living room window while I cut, folded and taped.
Christmastime is the only time that I remember music being played in our house. It was magical to me. I’d lift the lid of the clunky stereo and repeatedly replace the needle on the ridge before “O Holy Night.” I willed the praise and glory to soak into my soul as I tried again and again (very quietly, mostly to myself) to reach the high notes. I think it was my first shot at Karaoke.
My daughter Katie knows I love “O Holy Night,” and although Mariah Carey, Carrie Underwood, and Celine Dion have made big hits out of the hymn, I have no idea who sang the version on my mom’s Christmas album. It didn’t matter.
The only singers we paid attention to in our house at Christmastime were Perry Como, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra. I was good with that. My dad loved music, and December was the only time he took a break to listen. He’d call us into the tv room to watch the Perry Como Christmas Special, and his whole being would exude joy from his dominion in his La-Z-Boy recliner, a wacky name for a chair for a man without a lazy bone in his body,
Katie gave a canvas print of the lyrics to me for Christmas in 2019. The lyrics have never held more meaning as we move into 2021: