Friday, 30 December 2011

How our Dutch family got into English Christmas carols, way back when.

In terms of religious practice, my family of origin was a mixed bag. Mom was a devout member of the Dutch equivalent of the United Church, a liberal protestant. Dad labeled himself a humanist. His childhood  home had been dominated by devotion to the improvement of humanity's fate here on Earth. At his funeral the music included the socialist hymn "Morgenrood". 

The fear of WW 2 was still strong in the air and especially in my mother's mind. I was in my early teens before I found out that Dad's mother was Jewish. Mom swore me to secrecy, in case there was ever another war and some bad people would take Dad away. I am not making this up.
As far as I know Dad's childhood had been secular and dreidel-free, though he once mentioned that his grandparents, who lived above them, had a Mezuzah on their door. And at his mother's funeral he said Kaddish. We wish we had asked more questions.

When Mom and Dad married Dad agreed to send future kids to Christian elementary schools, in order to compensate for the lack of church going at home. I was a devout little Christian girl till age 14 when critical thinking kicked in. Dad was mainly silent on the topic, but made no bones about his objections to fear-filled forms of religion that suck the joy out of here-and-now life.

Christmas was a rare time when Dad would set his normal cynicism aside and pretend. He'd read the Christmas story from the Bible, and join in singing carols around the Christmas tree, which was small but real and lit with real candles. 
Once in a great while he would even deign to accompany Mom to church, a sweet little chapel hidden inside the block of flats where we lived.

In 1954 Mom befriended the wife of the organist of the Anglican church in Amsterdam. They lived around the corner and had children of similar ages. For a while a friendship actually flourished between the couples. And somehow, our family got into Christmas Carols. Dad liked them because he was a total Anglophile, and because the songs were cheerful. We even attended a Christmas service in the ancient English church in Begijnhof, a truly magical place hidden in a busy part of downtown.

I still love the traditional carols. The childhood memories make them all the more special. 

I find deep meaning in simply celebrating Earth's turnings. I take my Gaia plain, but deities of choice can be inserted if desired.  The huge fires on Solstice felt so right! But meaningful traditions have to grow organically. The process can't be forced. I would have loved to belt out some hearty Herald Angels and other traditional carols as we stood in the circle.

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