If you’re familiar with Psalm 98 in the Old Testament, you’re probably already turning the pages of your Bible to check on my edit of the first verse. And, if you’re not familiar with it, you turn to it also, please.
Be invited to sing to the Lord “a new song” because of the “salvation of our God.” All are called to make music to the Lord with harps and trumpets, ram’s horns and sounds of singing. The whole creation is included with the seas resounding, rivers clapping and the mountains singing together for joy! How can I possibly keep from singing, and why would I even try to resist, especially as we enter the most musical and joyful seasons of the year with the old carols rolling around in our hearts and coming out of our voices.
Bear with me as I explain the edit.
For me, Lydia Marie Child’s poem, first published in 1844 under the title “The New England Boys Song about Thanksgiving Day” (aka “Over the River and Through the Wood”) is the official Thanksgiving carol. Publishers over the years may have toyed with the original lyrics — woods instead of wood, grandfather’s house instead of grandmother’s, her cap spied instead of his, and even this is Christmas Day instead of Thanksgiving Day — but is there any other carol that has the power to transport mind and heart memories straight to grandparents and gratitude?
In 1857, “Jingle Bells” was written first as a Thanksgiving carol, later played by Gemini astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra on harmonica and with sleigh bells, the first carol broadcast from outer space, but now it’s a Christmas carol. Some might include Crosby’s 1954 “Count your Blessings” or “What a Wonderful World” and then there are the great hymns “We Gather Together” and “Now Thank We All Our God,” but for a Thanksgiving carol, put me in a sleigh and take me through the white and drifted snow and over the river, please!
Then come the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, along with Hanukkah, and the countless old carols we’ve loved since we were children. From “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night, Holy Night” lullabies that could put a restless child into a heavenly sleep to “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” that could sit you straight up in your own bed or in your mom’s lap at Christmas Eve midnight Mass, we still love them all so much that we can’t keep from singing. Neither can we keep or confine them inside the church walls, so “Caroling, Caroling, now we go, as Christmas bells are ringing!”
Stoic Scandinavians like me (well, maybe I’m not that stoic) have a special name for this activity, “julebukking.” They go singing the old carols in senior residences, hospitals and door-to-door in neighborhoods, but they do so in costumes and masks, disguising their voices and singing nonstop until their neighbors finally guess their identity or offer them Christmas cookies and cider. Real old-timer carolers dress like a Christmas goat, the julebukk. This traditional addition to Christmas decor is an animal made of straw from the harvest and wrapped in red ribbon, in days gone by, a symbol that life for the new year’s planting was held in the last year’s abundant harvest. Some of you, like us, may place a small julebukk by the Christmas tree in our homes, but the world’s largest one is placed outdoors next to the IKEA in Reykjavik, Iceland, each year.
So, what will you sing to the Lord this year? Who, where, when, how, why will you sing? Of all that you plan into your season’s schedule, it may be the best thing you do with your family and friends. Do it well with enthusiasm — don’t be a stoic. Sing on tiptoe, with joy, and to the Lord. Take in the great concerts and bring guests. Make the old carols really sing and they will become brand new again.
And as you’re singing to the Lord an old carol, take special notice of the new thing God is doing in you.