Opinion: Christmas Is Ever Fresh, Always New

December 24, 2014

[Opinion column written by Larry Burchall]

Over time, Christmas does not and has not changed much. Every year, there’s the new excitement of young children just beginning to grasp the magic and wonder of it all. Every year, there’s the singing of centuries old traditional ‘Christmas carols’. This annual celebration of the birth of Christ is a perfect blend of unchanging old and ever-changing new.

With well over sixty Bermuda Christmases stored in my memory cells, I look forward, again, to this Christmas; and I look back at past Bermuda Christmas’s. As happens with human memory, a lot of what I recall has blended and merged into mixed up blobs with the memories of one Christmas fusing with the memory of another.

I am fortunate, though some might consider it unfortunate, to have spent most of my life in a North Shore Pembroke/Devonshire Bermuda patch that covers about 600 acres. I’ve done lots of travelling, and I and my family, have worked and lived overseas; but more than 90% of my life has been spent growing up and living and helping to raise a family in this patch.

One of my memory blobs recalls the old neighbourhood custom of travelling carollers on Christmas Eve. These would come around late at night. Late, that is for a six or seven year-old who should have been abed by seven o’clock. But regardless of long ago bed times, I still recall the actual events. Perhaps my parents, most likely my father – but it could have been my mother – woke me so that I could share the experience.

As I recall, the Salvation Army people would move through our neighbourhood. They’d play the traditional carols and we’d sing along with them. We could sing along because we were a churchgoing family – and neighbourhood – and knew all the carols.

Several stanzas of some, and the odd verses of others. So we’d join in.

Later, another group would sometimes appear. These too, would sing. Or, should I say, attempt to sing.

This latter group were the neighbourhood ‘rummies’. As I recall, in our neighbourhood, these men would gather, lubricate their throats, tune up their voices, and then commence propelling themselves about our neighbourhood bringing such vocal cheer as they could muster.

These would not have the even harmony and smooth melody evinced by the practiced musicians of the Salvation Army. Instead, and certainly as I recall hearing them, these men tended to favour the style of the Gregorian chant – though I doubt that any had spent time in a Gregorian or any other monastery. Or, for that matter, were even aware of the monks of that ancient Christian order.

Still, these bands of lubricated chanters would arrive. They would sing relatively softly. Certainly, they were not as loud as the trumpets and trombones of the Salvation Army.

As I recall, on the one or two (three?) Christmases [or was it New Year’s?] that I did hear them; by the time they got to us, they had generally reached the point in their musical meditations where they tended to chant, no, not Christmas carols – for carols, in the main, do not lend to being chanted; instead, they chanted traditional but non-Christmas verses.

Two I remember. One was that old Spiritual “Steal Away”. The other, “Nearer My God To Thee.”

As I recall, they chanted, or tended to chant, the same line or lines over, and over, and over again, and again, and again.

Like a bedevilled chant. The like of which would surely be disowned by those ancient Gregorian brothers.

As I recall, my parents expressed disapproval of these men’s Christmas behaviour.

I grew up thinking that these night chanters were a part of a real Bermuda Christmas. Certainly, in the North Shore neighbourhood that nurtured me.

Perhaps this no longer happens. I certainly cannot recall it happening anytime since I’ve been married. Perhaps it’s a broken or lost Bermuda tradition.

But Christmas is ever fresh and always new. This 2014 Christmas is the same. Fresh, traditional, new, old.

Happy Christmas to you and to all who read Bernews.

- Larry Burchall

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  1. puma says:

    be carful though….don’t be like my mate gregory….some Christmas carolers went to his house to sing and maybe have a hot toddy laced with alcohol no doubt…dey got to his house singin “Come let us adore you !”…he had started drinkin early…his mustah thought they ment him….and he started takin his clothes off!

  2. Thanks for the chuckle :-)

    Season’s Greetings, Happy New Year! Mr. Larry Burchall & Family