Dec. 9, 1999

This is my contribution to Connected Recollections, the journal collaboration project for the MEMOIR webring. The topic this month is:

Silent Night

What memory do the words "silent night" provoke for you?

Of course the first thing that comes to mind for "Silent Night" is the Christmas Carol. I considered being different and writing about, literally, silence and night, but that would be stretching too much.

It's a lovely carol, too. Not my favourite (O Holy Night is) but pretty and dignified. I just remembered the Simon and Garfunkel version, from the days of protest: they were singing the carol and in the background you could hear a radio newscast, at first very soft but growing louder and louder as the song went on. It was typical 60's (or early 70's) news.. Viet Nam, protests, discrimination, poverty.. the details have changed but the news hasn't. I think it carried the message at least as well as later songs such as "Do They Know it's Christmas" from the mid-80's.

I had to learn Christmas Carols in school. In Quebec in the 1950's if Jews attended public schools they learned about Christianity, specifically the Protestant variety, as those were the schools that admitted us. We studied Bible, both Old and New Testament. We sang hymns such as "Onward Christian Soldiers". We memorized the Lord's Prayer and repeated it every morning, along with saluting the flag and singing "O Canada". And nobody thought anything of it. Very religious people sent their children to parochial school if they could afford it.. and if not, they accepted the religious teaching as just another subject. This would be oh so politically incorrect nowadays but I doubt it did us any harm. I have only fond memories of Christmas at school, and my parents made sure I knew of my own heritage.

One memory stands out in particular.. I was in grade 1 and it was the Christmas pageant. The entire school participated, and grade 1 played the elves. I remember little green costumes. We must have been adorable. Our job was to trim the tree. This was a really big deal for me, as I never got to do it in real life. I think all we actually had to do was sprinkle silver tinsel on the already decorated evergreen. I just loved that tinsel.. so soft and light and shiny. I remember the dress rehearsal going beautifully. We danced around the tree in a circle, throwing tinsel on it. Of course, it's bad luck when the rehearsal goes well.. during the performance, with all the parents watching, that evil tree FELL OVER! I think I fell too, but when you're six, you don't have far to fall so I'm not sure. I remember the audience laughing and some teachers putting it right, and I couldn't understand later why everyone said how wonderful it was.

It's almost the middle of December and there's no snow on the ground. This isn't very unusual.. I remember several years with little snow before January. We've spent more than half of the last fifteen Christmases in Florida, but I still feel that the season really isn't the same without snow. A blanket of snow on the ground reflects moonlight and city light so the sky never looks as black as it does down south.. and of course the snow muffles sound, and when the wind is still, the night is as close to   *silent*   as can be.

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