A Holy Night to Remember

A Holy Night to Remember

From Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul

A Holy Night to Remember

Community is not built upon heroic actions, but rather upon the love shown in the little things of daily life.

Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche

As northern Canadians we share many memories of cold winters. At Christmas time, I often reflect upon one particular evening of a prairie winter in the early 1960s. Though the frost was cruel, the reminiscence is warm.

We were students at college in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, most of us living away from home for the first time. Hanging a few strips of tinsel in our rooms didn’t relieve the feeling of homesickness that had overtaken our dorm. What could we do to bring on the Christmas spirit, stave off our longing for home and maybe brighten someone else’s life? One of my friends suggested going carolling. That was it! Every student at our small college was rousted out for the occasion. No auditions. No voice lessons. No excuses. Warmth of spirit was the only requirement. And our enthusiasm served as an electric soul-warmer for those who seemed lacking in spirit.

We divided into groups so our music would resound over most of our college town. The group I joined had nothing resembling four-part harmony, but we could collectively make a joyful noise. Bounding boisterously and carrying a tune in our hearts, we made our first call. “Deck the Halls,” we tra-la-la-ed.

Soon we discovered that carolling brings a variety of responses. When you carol for people you know, you can be sure of open doors and open hearts; when you carol for strangers, you can’t be sure what kind of reception you will get. Some folks remained in the safety and cosiness of their homes, watching and listening passively through their living room windows. Others cautiously propped the door open enough to hear us, but not enough to let in the cold—or their unknown guests. Some flung their doors wide open and sang along; others watched in silent reverie.

One of the stops on our journey was a three-story apartment building. With no intercoms or security cameras to deter us in those days, we walked right in. Starting our performance in the basement, we sang mostly to closed doors. After a couple of songs we headed for the main floor. Two doors swung open. One doorway framed a young couple, obviously expecting a child. In another doorway, two preschoolers clung to their parent’s legs. What were they feeling: Surprise? Wonder? Curiosity? Their faces seemed to ask, Who are these strange, bundled-up people? And why are they doing this?

We sang “Away in a Manger” for the young ones. We continued with “O Little Town of Bethlehem” for our seemingly appreciative gathering. Mounting the stairs to the third floor, we burst into “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” a song that suited the night.

One door on the top floor creaked open. A stately gentleman, gray-haired and thin, held onto his doorknob. He became our audience of one. As we murmured about what to sing next, the elderly fellow asked, “Would you come into our apartment and sing for my wife? She’s bedridden. I know she’d love to hear you. My wife used to be an opera singer,” he added proudly, “and she’s always loved music.”

All eight of us stepped timidly into the couple’s tiny, crowded bachelor suite. Books, records, china, antique furniture and mementoes whispered stories to us. I reminded myself not to stare for fear of invading their privacy. This was their home, their sanctuary and a hallowed place where the old-timer watched over his fragile partner. Her silver, bed-mussed head made only a small dint in her pillow.

Without a word, he adjusted his wife’s headrest so she could see and hear us better. Then he gave a nod. Our voices rose and warbled through “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” Had our voices been given extra grace and beauty for this occasion? Perhaps they had—we sang rather well for such a motley, impromptu crew.

A smile flickered on the woman’s gaunt, wrinkled, yet beautiful, face. Her eyes sparkled softly. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Her husband requested “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night,” two of her favourites. As we finished our performance, her eyes closed. Now the man shed his own tears. Quietly, we turned to leave, closing the door softly on the housebound couple.

The winter moon and stars shone down upon us. It had become a silent night, a holy night, for we had been in the presence of love that was gentle and mild. All was calm; all was bright as we headed back to our residence. We had found, and maybe even given, the Christmas spirit.

Sharon Espeseth
Barrhead, Alberta

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners