A Christmas carol

IT'S THE most wonderful time of the year. Awe and joy are always there in one's mind and it only takes a Christmas carol to set it off. Along with roast turkey, plum pudding, holly and ivy sprigs, kissing under the mistletoe and the legend of old St. Nick, choruses of carol singers have been the ushers for this season of hope and joy.

Angels sang the first carol after the birth of Christ. Adopted from pagan rituals, the early Christian church frowned on such frivolities and preferred Latin chants. St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century introduced carol singing. Carol singing since then has become part of Advent, the four weeks preceding the birth of Christ. Carol singers call on houses, often in the wee hours of the morning, rendering the themes of `heavenly peace' and `goodwill to all men.' Most often it is the strum of the lone guitar that accompanies the message of `Mary's boy child'.

In Hyderabad recently, at the Rail Nilayam Auditorium the carol singers and the audience were from diverse backgrounds, confirming the fact that everyone enjoys carols. The pick of the evening was a carol rendered by Sandeep, a Rajput by birth. A soft-voiced singer, head back, eyes closed, from the bottom of his heart he poured out the last strains of `sleep in heavenly peace' into the gathering night. At the ITC Kakatiya Sheraton and Towers, carols were sung in the foyer as part of a party for under-privileged children.

Carols are sung in almost every language in the world and on every imaginable Christmas theme - the very popular 12 days of Christmas, Chestnuts roasting over an open fire, Frosty the snowman and the loveable I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus. And then there are carols that are drawn from church music - Gloria in Excelsis Deo, O come all ye faithful and What child is this? In India, carols are very popular in the vernacular.

Over the years, Jim Reeves and Bing Crosby have popularised carols such as An Old Christmas Card, White Christmas and Meleki liki Maka (Merry X'mas in Hawaiian). Hispanic singers like Harry Belafonte have given the Spanish touch to carols such as Feliz Navidad and Santa Natale. Carols have been morphed into almost all genres of music from classical to hip-hop, jazz to rock and pop to country and have even been immortalised by Dickens. The origins of many of the famous carols are often obscure. However we do know that Silent Night was written in a little Austrian town while O Holy Night was first sung by French and German soldiers during a ceasefire in the Franco-Prussian war. And then there is this story...

John Pierpont, a 19th century reformer thought he was a failure and died a broken man. But every year come December we celebrate his success. We carry in our hearts a lifelong memorial to him. It's a song. A simple song about the joys of whizzing through the cold dark of winter in a sleigh pulled by one horse. And with the company of friends laughing and singing all the way. No more, no less. Pierpont wrote Jingle Bells. To write a song that millions of people around the world know, a song that everyone of us, large and small can hoot out the moment the chord is struck on the piano and chord is struck in our spirit - well that's not failure. Pierpont penned the lines as a gift for his family and friends. And in doing so left behind a permanent gift for Christmas. Not the one under the tree but the invisible, invincible one of joy.

So raise your voices in uplifted song. And have yourself a merry little Christmas.


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