Christmas is the most “sensuous” of holidays. The smell of a pine forest in the snow around Brainerd will bring back Christmas memories. The taste of peppermint will take me back almost 50 years to a Christmas program practice and my teachers explanation of the theological significance of the Christmas Candy Cane. The sight of a broken down cattle shed in the wilds of North Dakota will take me to a manger throne and a babe lying there that is the Savior of the World. The feel of old tinsel that lies on the bottom of some of our decoration boxes flashes scenes of Christmas’ past through my head until I feel like Ebenezer Scrooge. And of course, the sounds. Bells, hymns, carols, all of these are rich in memory and context.
One memory that stands out that combines many of the senses happened a few years ago. I was looking though a book that at one time was one of those “memories” itself. There was a magazine that was published every year for Christmas that had beautiful pictures and poems and songs. My memory is that it printed “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry, with marvelous illustrations. It may have been “Christmas Ideals” but I am not sure. If anyone can help with this I would appreciate it. Anyway I was listening to carols and drinking Christmas blend coffee and touching the pages of this book when I was captivated by a poem. It was called “Shepherds Song” and was written by William R. Mitchell and it stunned me. One phrase, it seemed to me, was everything a piece of poetry should be. In one phrase he sums up everything that I have always imagined a shepherd would feel and think on a cold and lonely night in the field – “I was listening to the flocks like wilder children plead, in almost human voices their almost human need”.
So in about ten minutes I had a melody of sorts and for whatever reason this has become one of my favorite Christmas songs. It is redolent of all the sights and sounds and textures that summon the season and it conjures in my mind’s eye the “Adoration of the Shepherds”. I like to think that Michelangelo had a song like this in his head when he painted it.