christmas

The 5 Best YouTube Videos for Christmas

Deal W. Hudson
December 11, 2017

YouTube has become a treasure trove of musical delights, which I enjoy exploring especially at the season of Christmas. I offer the five best videos of live performances of Christmas music that I have found thus far.

Live performances add a much-needed visual element to the performances of familiar songs. We see, as well as hear, the personal commitment to the music and its message. In some cases, it’s a reminder of what television once gave us, the thrill of singers singing without a net, as it were, in front of a live camera and microphone. As one who grew up delighting in the annual Christmas shows of Perry Como, Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, and Glen Campbell, I am very pleased to share these with you. Please enjoy and “Merry Christmas!”

1. O Holy Night — Ernie Ford and Gordon MacRae

Let’s begin with a real gem: Remember when TV was live — when great singers just stood in front of the camera and sang without a net. Here are two iconic figures, Ernie Ford and Gordan MacRae from a 1958 Christmas show (I was nine). Their harmony is impeccable, but when Gordon MacRae begins his solo part at 1:12 you will wonder if you’ve ever heard a more pure baritone. Just gorgeous! And, yes, they hit the final notes without any break in their legato delivery.

2. Whence Is That Goodly Fragrance Flowing — The Mormon Tabernacle Choir

I have watched this performance over and over since it first became available in 2013. Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the 17th-century French carol, “Whence Is That Goodly Fragrance Flowing?” (Quelle est cette odeur agréable). Note the moment at 2:36 when the women’s voice begin singing acapella and are then joined by the men creating as pure a choral sound as you will ever hear. This is very special, and I hope you enjoy it.

3. In the Bleak Midwinter — Benjamin Luxon and the Westminster Choir

The Gustav Holst setting of Christina Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter” is sung live by Benjamin Luxon (now age 80) at Westminster Cathedral. Luxon was a man whose love for singing was always apparent by the twinkle in his eye and his delight in communicating with his audience. His many performances with folk singer Bill Crofut are delightful (try to hear their “All Through the Night”). He also loved singing one of my favorite composers, Frederick Delius, and his performance of Zarathustra in the “Mass of Life” remains the best of all recordings.

4. Mary’s Boy Child — Tom Jones at the Vatican

The Welsh have a special gift and passion for music, and none more than Tom Jones — oh, excuse me, that’s Sir Tom Jones, who on this occasion was singing at the Vatican in 2001. Jones cares about this song, it’s obvious from the start, but something happens to him at 2:11 and his performance is lifted to another level, continuing to rise all the way to the end. Born in 1940, Tom Jones was a mere 61 years old when he sang for Saint John Paul II whose Polish heart must have been lifted hearing a man pour his whole heart into this song about “Mary’s Boy Child.” (This version is much preferable to his lip-synced version for the David Foster 1993 TV Christmas Special.)

5. What Sweeter Music — The Georgia Boys Choir

Robert Herrick (1591-1674) was a clergyman poet, belonging to the Church of England, who composed a marvelous poem, “What Sweeter Music,” which the English composer, John Rutter, set to music in 1998. Rutter’s setting quickly and deservedly entered the Christmas music canon — it’s almost unbearably beautiful. There are many excellent performances on YouTube, including that of the famed King’s College Choir conducted by Dr. Stephen Cleobury. But after listening to all of them, I think this one by the Georgia Boys Choir has the kind of sincerity and tenderness this music demands. The choir’s treble voices at 1:44 completely win me over. I hope watching these boys and young men will add to the delight of hearing Rutter’s masterpiece.

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Christmas is for Children

Published December 1, 1997
DEAL W. HUDSON

I heard our president on the radio this morning, announcing, “We must make sure that parents are able to spend time with their children whenever they can.” If the “we” had been the American people, not the government, then the comment was merely an obvious truism. Apparently, though, the president feels that the facts—a fifty percent divorce rate, the spread of the two salary family— require that the government step in and ensure children get enough quality time with their parents.

Sad, isn’t it, that we have created a society in which we must talk about children in this way. In a country where forty-five percent of all children under a year old are in day care, it’s no wonder manger scenes are banned from public places. We don’t like reminders of the family we have lost.

The Christmas season reveals the fault lines everywhere— inside ourselves, within our families, and throughout society. It’s not simply a matter of our anxiety about meeting emotional expectations. At Christmas we relive the definitive entrance of God into the world, establishing himself for all time as “the way, the truth, and the life.” Christmas inevitably reveals the direction of our spiritual compass.

It is ticklish, to say the least, to raise the issue of childcare in this way. So many heroic parents are raising children by themselves, so many others are working hard together to support their families. But as much as those parents want our sympathy and support, I would imagine those same parents deeply wish for a world of intact families where every child is raised by a parent at home. In other words, it is one thing to sympathize with the present situation, and quite another to hope for what children really need.

We have lapsed into the cynicism of accepting the status quo, speaking vaguely for the need for sympathy, and resolving to “face reality.” What troubles me, however, are the deeper currents that course through the culture. I notice, for example, how a kind of gay chic has taken hold of the popular mind. The call for toleration has been replaced not merely by normalization but by positive celebration. Nothing could spread messages more at odds with either Catholic social teaching or the natural law.

We have seen it all before. Remember the speech in Plato’s Symposium extolling the superiority of homosexual love over heterosexual? The argument is based upon the supposed advantage of begetting ideas and “beautiful conversations,” rather than the gross matter of human life. Heterosexual couples, or “breeders” as they are now sometimes called, are naturally inclined toward shaping their lives around the creation of a family, specifically for the purpose of raising children. With the mainstreaming of homosexuality into our culture, children are pushed more and more into the background of our attention and our caring.

In the context of Greek culture, we understand why abstract ideas are given more importance than the life of a human person. Even Aristotle, for all his realism, didn’t base his argument for heterosexuality on the creation of life, but on proper biological functioning. With the coming of the Incarnation, however, it was no longer possible to misunderstand the unique value of the person, or the fundamental purpose of marriage, family, and sexuality to beget and nurture persons.

Charity requires a great deal more than sensitivity and concern for the heroic efforts of single parents who raise children, or for those parents whose two salaries combine to put their children in private schools. Charity requires that we actively work and pray for a transformed society, one that does not depend upon government daycare to do the job of parenting, but one where fathers and mothers are actually present.

At Christmas time, we focus primarily on the perfect humility of Mary but in the midst of these thoughts my mind turns to Joseph. Joseph married the woman he loved, but found that he would never consummate his marriage or receive its physical comforts in the expected fashion. Despite this, he remained chaste and true to his family. He is the purest example of a true promise keeper. Joseph understood his role as one of taking care of his family, not of using his family as a means to his own personal fulfillment.

Gay chic, following on the heels of the “pro-choice” movement, only throws fuel on the fire of the culture of death. It is for this reason the Church has wisely chosen the term “objective disorder” in describing the tragedy of homosexual orientation. Since lay Catholics have been invited to join a dialogue on homosexuality, we at CRISIS think that the gathering of the Holy Family at Christmastide is an ideal occasion for beginning that conversation.

Alice Thomas Ellis: He Came Down from Heaven

Editor’s note: Here’s a Catholic writer worth discovering or rediscovering! Alice Thomas Ellis, who died 2002 at age 72, was the pen name of Anna Haycraft. I called her one day out of blue and asked her to write an article for Crisis Magazine and she very kindly sent the one below — it helped that I read several of her novels and knew of her concerns about the post Vatican II Church (read her explosive, Serpent On The Rock published in 1994). Born in Wales, Alice converted to Catholicism at age 19 and went into a convent as a postulant nun. After slipping a disc, she left for a time, but when she returned the convent refused to take her back. She had seven children but managed a very active career in published and in writing. Many of her novels were bestsellers and a turned into movies and a TV mini-series. Among her best known fiction is The Sin Eater (1977), The Birds Of The Air (1980), The 27th Kingdom (1982), Unexplained Laughter (1985), The Inn At The Edge Of The World (1990), Pillars Of Gold (1992), and a novel about the mysterious appearance of a newborn baby, Fairy Tale (1996). Her only collection of stories was The Evening Of Adam (1994).

Alice Thomas Ellis

He Came Down from Heaven–A Consolation

Published November 1, 1995

I have been clearing out rooms since the death of my husband and have been sometimes overcome by a sense of the charnel-house. The possessions of the dead can seem loathsome when they have lost all utility and are mere reminders of mortality, of corruption and decay, of grief and loss. Even evidence of past joys and triumphs—trophies and photographs—are a source of anguish when the one to whom they were most pertinent has gone and won’t be coming back.

The house is mixed with the occasions of pain and you find yourself reluctant to move, to stir the air lest you raise the dust of old memories. The ubiquitous counselors who now profligate will tell you that the pain passes and you are left with only the “good things,” but I have not found this to be true. My second son died nearly twenty years ago and the wound has not healed, nor ever will, until I too am dead.

They tell you to make the most of this world, to empower yourself, to revel in self-esteem and self-love, to eat (only fat and sodium free comestibles of course), to drink (in severe moderation) and be merry: the implication being that this life is all we have; we should make it as long as we possibly can and be careful not to love anyone, other than ourselves, too greatly lest we should suffer.

Even “Christians” now offer this advice, while a psychiatrist, suggesting that I should enjoy myself, was unable to understand me when I said that I found it impossible to be carefree since I had many children (five alive, two dead), and could not relax unless I was certain that they were content.

My words made no sense to him. In the old Welsh phrase I was “in the potato field” while he was “in the turnip field” and there was no chance of communication between us. My consolation is the certainty of my own death, which keeps me from despair: the knowledge that separation is not eternal.

It is the things of this life which fill me with gloom and anxiety, and of the two inescapables—death and taxes—it is only the latter which keeps me awake at night. Most of our “valuables” have been lost or stolen and, while this is momentarily annoying, I cannot really regret them. There is a curse implicit in material possessions, in the worry and responsibility that they incur, and the only true worldly freedom is in the lack of them. We need food, clothes, and shelter but most of us, in the Western world at least, have too many tiresome personal gewgaws to be comfortable. They have to be protected from moth, rust, and the burglar and are a nuisance. Even flesh is a nuisance with all the ills that it is heir to, and it feels the cold.

Once when I was afraid of death, not of my own but that of the people I loved, I would go and sit in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the quiet of a church, redolent of incense, ancient ritual, and prayer. A church was a place where you could meet death on neutral ground, a no-man’s land between now and eternity, where matters fell into perspective and terror became irrelevant because you knew it to be transitory.

There was a silent peace with a hidden promise of unimaginable joy to which all the objects of devotion attested: the altar, the statues, the crucifix, all the appurtenances of faith belonged to no one and to everyone. Still and worthy of trust, they were there yesterday and now and would be there tomorrow. Inanimate yet living testimony to a vital certainty. It is rare now to find such a church. Stripped and barren, while the people themselves are encouraged to buy more and more to support the market economy and cram their houses with trivia, the churches are denuded in the name of progress.

It is impossible to understand without laying bare the motives of those who wrought such destruction. The result is terrible in the terms of disillusion and loss, and those who say they wished only to affirm life and community have robbed us of consolation, giving death a greater power than is his due. The here and now is what concerns us they say, forgetting that life is short and but a preparation.

The new and re-ordered churches are symbolic only of a denied but underlying despair, a loss of faith to the sad conviction that death is the end. The noisy ceremonies that now fill these churches, the guitars, the clapping, swaying, and showy raptures are a mere extension of the drug culture, a whistling in the wind, a neurotic insistence that happiness is attainable immediately and does not need to be waited for or earned. The notion that suffering can bring forth good, that deprivation can nourish the soul is unacceptable. Suggest that the saints lived their lives in the promise and not the fulfillment of joy and you will not be heard. The Protestant cult of the “born again” with its ecstatic overtones has laid hold of a Church that still claims to lay all store on baptism. We are at the mercy of doctrinal error, often imposed from above, with little recourse to authority which is often too pusillanimous to argue with the trend. The wolves are in the fold.

Now that the churches are no longer peaceful but full of people determined to convey to you their loving care, their innate virtuousness, with handshakes and smiles, the bereft are best off in solitude, listening for the still, small voice. The country graveyard is perhaps now the place nearest to God on earth, for that too is neutral ground where death has had his way, is satisfied and thus of no more significance and no threat. Freedom lies in looking on the face of death and knowing that there is no true battle here, that he does not need to be fought and defeated, for he is only God’s instrument and God lives.

Gain and Loss on Christmas Day

Deal W. Hudson

“Heard Melodies Are Sweet, but Those Unheard Are Sweeter,” wrote John Keats in his famous “Ode to a Grecian Urn.” This explains the pleasure of memories, especially those of a Christmas nearly sixty years ago.

My family lived in Prairie Village, a suburb of Kansas City, in a modest ranch style house. My father, an airline pilot for Braniff, was a lean and handsome Texan who carried on his face traces of sadness from his fifty B-24 missions flown out of Italy over Eastern Europe during WWII.

I didn’t know then he would have rather owned a ranch, and would have, had it not been for the intervening war.

Mother was a dark-haired beauty and held herself with the air of a small-town girl from Texas who had been a Zeta Tau Alpha at Duke University in North Carolina.

When Christmas came, the Texas relatives from both sides of the family descended on that small home in Prairie Village whose other inhabitants included me, my red-headed older sister Ruth, and our cocker spaniel Laddie.

Great Aunt Lucile from Austin, the unmarried former opera singer, would arrive in a mink coat and hat, a black veil across her eyes, and with a regal bearing so gracious, I realized later, she could have been entering Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen.

I was aware, even at an early age, of my parents’ attempt to avoid having both sides of the family descending on our home during the same Christmas. My mother’s parents, who I called Hoody and Tissy, did not care to compete for attention with Aunt Lucile, my father’s aunt, who had traveled the world since the 1920s. Aunt Lucile had carefully managed and grown her inherited wealth, was truly formidable, in any company, and we were all affected by her presence.

As the years passed, I realized that part of every Christmas included the push and pull within the family, old quarrels and new, always stoked anew by comparing the children, how they looked, their achievements, the colleges, the grades, the jobs.

As early as eighth grade, I began to devise ways to derail the feuding before it gained momentum — enforced caroling, reading Scripture, reciting poetry, and, when all else failed, playing show tunes and telling jokes.

Each year though, by the time the Christmas Eve darkness descended, tensions would give way to expectation, helped along by the serving of egg nog, which of course, was kept from me. By then I was too intent on the shiny, beribboned packages placed under the tree.

I would look at the tags to see how many where for me and how their size and number measured relative to those of my sister. But, the final accounting had to wait until Christmas morning when Santa’s presents would be lying unwrapped in front of the tree and the blazing fireplace.

In my memory, it seems that both Santa and my parents took great pains to make everything “even Stephen,” which is something Theresa and I have done with our own two children I realize.

Yes, I remember those nights before Christmas when I listened for reindeer hooves on the roof and the sound of Santa climbing down our chimney, perhaps delighted over the glass of milk and plate of cookies I had left for him in front of the fire.

Like Ralphie in the “Christmas Story,” I always asked Santa for a BB gun, but unlike Ralphie, it never came. What did come one year, however, thrilled me like no gift I had ever received before — an electric train on a circular track controlled by a heavy transformer with a large switch on top that turned on the power and controlled the train’s speed.

My grandfather was the one who really sensed how enthralled I was with the electric train, and as soon as the gift opening was finished, he sat with me on the hardwood floor of the dining room to assemble it. The train seemed to fly around the track as I pushed the switch as far as I dared. Naturally the train lifted off the tracks a few times before I got the knack of it.

Grandfather Hoody beamed at my delight and laughter, and as I went to bed that night I felt that nothing had been missing from Christmas; the presents, the tree, the family at peace for the day, and my grandfather sharing my delight in the train set. And, oh, I can’t forget the wonderful ozone smell of that transformer when I pressed the switch as far as it would go!

The next morning came, and I rushed into the dining room to play with my train, but the transformer would not turn on, and on top of that the air had taken on the odor of something that had burned. My father, hearing my cries came in and, being an engineer, knew immediately what was wrong: “You left the transformer on all night, and it burned out.” In a moment I had lost my most precious Christmas gift, and my father had that look on his face of disappointment, the one that wrenches the heart of a young boy.

Hoody came in and tried to resuscitate the dead transformer, knowing all along it was dead and gone, but also knowing I needed someone to sit with me while I absorbed my loss. Yes, I remember that my father had warned me to turn the transformer off, but my excitement had carried me to bed, thoughtlessly turning my gain into a loss.

Almost sixty years later, I can remember the sting of that loss, the look on my father’s face, the gentleness of my grandfather’s gaze. It was the beginning, or should I say one of the beginnings of wisdom, a lesson in the impermanence of things. The train was taken away over night, but two memories have stayed with me from that Christmas: The parents who made Christmas day the fulfillment of a little boy’s dream and a grandfather whose love would inspire me to dream for more.