When I was a kid, one of our traditions was to go over to the neighbor’s house on Christmas Eve. They always had a real tree, and the only ornaments on it were candles. Real candles. It seemed like hundreds of them to me, but it was probably more like thirty or forty.
They would light them, then turn the lights out, and we would all sing Christmas carols. After three or four carols, they would turn the lights back on and put out the candles, and the adults would stand around chatting and drinking until the kids got too bored and obnoxious and it was time to leave. Then Mrs. Neighbor would give each family a gingerbread house and a little wrapped tin of toffee–she must have spend the entire week before Christmas baking and decorating the houses and preparing the toffee–and we would all go home.
Those candles in that tree scared the everloving daylights out of me every year. I was convinced the tree was going to catch on fire and kill us all. But it never did. Mr. Neighbor was always careful with the placement and the lighting, and truth be told I don’t remember a flame ever getting close to anything green.
It’s the singing that stands out in my mind today. I’m sure that in that group of neighbors there were some fantastic voices; I’m equally sure there were some that would have made a bullfrog cover his ears. The thing is, I don’t remember ever noticing.
In fact, I don’t remember ever noticing a lousy voice while singing carols anywhere, and it’s something I’ve done a few times. The point of Christmas carols, like so many other holiday traditions, is to share joy, and it’s hard not to feel joy when you’re singing (try it and see). If you can even manage it, singing without joy sounds flat and dull, and that’s what folks will notice before they notice whether you hit all the right notes.
So let’s find the courage this holiday season to raise our voices in song. Let’s share our joy with anybody who can hear us, and let’s not waste our energy worrying what they think about our singing. It’s the joy that’s important. The tune will take care of itself.