Stable: Muzak vs. the Manger Song

So, “Christmas in the heart puts Christmas in the air.” WT Ellis*

Sometimes it is just muzak.

When that happens, commercialism is the heart of it. The best commercial Christmas can render is something vaguely performative, sour breathed and tiresome.

A true performance connects to real need; and there is no real need for all the cheap and tawdry muzak, it is the spawn of commercial greed, too shallow and fearful to even examine what it is saying.

If you’ve ever felt that you are the curmudgeon, the Scrooge, the lesser person because you despise muzak, and Xmas music most of all, please, don’t worry. You’re just holding out for the real, beautiful music. It still lives. It still sings.

Anytime a prisoner escapes unjust incarceration, the song is there. Any time an advocate speaks up for one less able, the song is there. Any time a person opens their door to one without shelter, sets a place at the table for one without food, welcomes a lonesome one, then the baby of potential glory is born, again and again; however humble our circumstance, however meagre our manger, one act of ‘yes’ toward the fundamental giving nature of life transfigures that manger with kingly light.

As a non-Christian, I can still accept and honour that there is a power of good in the symbolic heart of Christmas: a baby, humbly born of a teenaged unwed mom, attended by her cuckholded fiancé, who apparently saw her through the birth, declaring that the child must be God’s own son, thus holding up, not denigrating, his young bride-to-be, in a society where paternity, and male sexual propiety over women were such strong forces.

Just a baby, in a manger, among the warm sweet breath of cattle and sheep; a symbol that could also remind us of All Our Relations, that humanity at its finest is not separated from our fellow travellers. We, too, are animals, and in animal warmth we are home.

The air of that first Christmas night might have been redolent of straw, of manure, of the green breath of cattle, the lanolin scent of sheep, musk of grain, dank of mice and the rank of cats; perhaps camels and horses, along with the donkey mentioned as Mary’s saddle beast; as well, the resin of raw wood partitions, the sour clean odour of clay, and a drift of courtyard smells speaking of the cargoes and origins of those who filled the place over-capacity that night.

My cynical mind wants to poke, to prod at this story, and considering human pride, to wonder if Joseph and Mary were really okay with being sent to the stables. I want to wonder, was that inn full? Or was it that someone knew she was a scandalous woman, and there was no room for them on those grounds? I want to wonder whether Joseph was as kind and forebearing as his legend holds, or whether he made Mary’s labour a misery, blaming her for them being stuck in the stable. But I won’t go further down that road. Even if there was disgrace, prejudice and punishment implicit in their lodgings, what fills my heart with joy about it, even as a crusty middle aged woman, is my own memory of the warm sweetness of a barn, the fulsome aroma of many kinds of creature bedded down together. It is a simple, pastoral song.

At the heart of it, the sense that Life is welcome here is the holiness that means Christmas to me. I remember my Mom, without fail, in the face of newborn life or any kind, became lit from within by the wonder of being alive. I believe we all do. So long as we do that, whether we call the song Christmas, or by some other name, we’ll be okay. We’ll find ourselves at home in good, clean, richly laden air, where anything is possible, all is calm, all is bright.

*This year, I am honouring my mom’s passing by writing throughout the Advent season, following as prompts the daily quotations cited in the free online calendar put out by the Catholic Medical Mission Board Mom was a lifelong Roman Catholic, and I was raised with the Church as a contentious part of our family life, given that my Ojibwe dad’s family was so affected by the church. Nonetheless, her faith was important to Mom, so this is a tribute to her. It’s also a reflection on how religions influence in many ways. 

If you like these posts, please also consider donating, in the memory of Albina Sewell, to Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton; her chosen charity for memorials is not religiously affiliated, but serves all children.

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