Last year I was not in the mood for the Friends’ holiday party, though it is usually a highlight of the season, involving a festive potluck, a program from the children of First-day school, and carol singing. But last year a dear friend died suddenly right after Thanksgiving, casting a darkness over Christmastime. We were just doing the minimum that year.
Because I had to work the Sunday of the party, my family and I arrived just as the group was joining in a silent thanksgiving before the meal. But the first face I saw was a beloved friend who moved away several years ago, but was back in town for the holiday. What a joy it was to see Francie’s smiling face. As we stood in line for the generous potluck dinner, we caught up on the hardships and rewards she had experienced in bravely moving to a new home. Looking around I saw a young Friend just returned from his first semester at college—how much older and more confident he looked! I caught sight of my college-student daughter who had come on her own and felt glad that this tie holds. I saw children who hadn’t come to meeting in a while and I marveled at their growth. Perhaps I would enjoy this party after all, I thought.
At dinner we talked about politics, holiday plans, the local economy. After tea and dessert the tables were put away and the chairs reorganized to face the small, bare stage. Three of the youngest members of the First-day school, ages two and three, accompanied by a teacher, a mom, a grandfather and a guitar, led us in singing "Silent Night." We enjoyed singing the song so much, we sang it over again.
For the second act three members of the kindergarten-through-second-grade class trooped on stage, three little girls wearing gaily colored headscarves and carrying large gift-wrapped boxes. It was plain to see that Ana, Emily, and Clara loved wearing the beautiful scarves. The teacher announced, "We bring you the gift of . . . life!" The three little girls cavorted happily around the stage, bringing soft laughter from the audience. "We bring you the gift of . . . funniness!" The girls hopped about, perfectly expressing their funniness, much to the audience’s delight. "We bring you the gift of . . . dancing!" Dancing came naturally to these three, we all could see. "We also want to share the mural we’ve been working on." The girls and their teacher unfolded and displayed a large collage that looked like a scene of Bethlehem. The audience applauded enthusiastically.
The third-through-fifth-grade class (all boys) enacted a skit with two gangs, one "lost boys" and the other "loved boys," causing us to reflect on the needs of the angry and the forgotten. Next the Christmas story from Luke was read aloud and spontaneously acted out by a group of volunteers. Joseph, Mary, the baby, the shepherds took their familiar places. Christmas was beginning to happen again.
The last act was a skit by the Senior Young Friends in which two FBI officers "infiltrate" a Friends meeting but come to find the Quakers infiltrating their own hearts. The SYFs exhibited their usual barbed political insights, and the audience showed its approval.
Finally, the time for singing carols arrived. Song books were passed out and one of our teenagers led us on the old piano. How much more powerful it felt to sing the words together, rather than listening to carols performed by others.
Now to the Lord sing praises
All you within this place
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace.
Singing the carols linked me to my childhood, my Catholic girlhood, my own children’s childhoods, all the years of Christmas strung together like glowing lights. Memories of my dear friend were present within me too.
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way,
With painful steps and slow.
Look now! For glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
Our group of Friends may not have wings, but together we sounded as beautiful as angels singing.
I think now how childish it would be to imagine there would be no tragedy, no sadness at Christmastime. Sadness and loss will be a part of what fills our hearts at this season. I bring my friend’s memory with me into the holy season; I do not forget him. The lights of Christmas can yet shine, and the beloved music can bring us comfort and joy in a dark time.
And besides, I have received gifts of life, funniness, and dancing, haven’t I?