Christmas just wasn’t Christmas at my house, until we were gathered around the organ singing Christmas carols. Yeah, I said organ, and not piano. My mother was a church organist, and we had an organ in the house long before we had a piano. My mother also had the organist hymnal, as well as one from the pews. My Christmas memories are of being able to page through the hymnal to design our own service, or simply to belt out our favorite hymns. Even though I couldn’t hit all of the notes, I still felt an overwhelming sense of joy singing “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Joy to the World,” “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” “Silent Night,” and “Away in a Manger.”
My mother also had a lot of sheet music of secular Christmas songs. My favorites to sing every year were “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth,” and “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” Even hearing those songs on the radio all these years later leaves a warm and fuzzy feeling inside me.
Eventually Mom got a large book of Christmas music. It had most of our favorites from the hymnal and sheet music, plus many more. I would try to keep the Christmas spirit alive throughout the year by playing the songs on my Yamaha keyboard in my bedroom or on the piano we eventually bought to put next to the organ. I never felt right trying to play Christmas songs on the organ. While I was trying to emulate my mother, I knew I could never quite fill her shoes.
Sometimes when I was a kid, it was hard for me to understand why I didn’t have a ton of Christmas presents under the tree, like so many of my friends did. Looking back now, as an adult, I think my memories of Christmas are even better. I don’t remember many of the material things. Instead, I have images of the Christmas tree that we helped our father decorate. I can still smell the freshly cut pine tree. I love that we were unique in singing around the organ, and later the piano. And I have warm feelings of closeness and love between members of my family.