The words Silent Night are powerful and steeped in enough tradition in the United States that they quickly evoke myriads of different images and memories for people when uttered. Whether it’s thanks to the carolers outside your door, or because that damn song has come on the radio 25 times during your 10 minute car ride with your boyfriend to pick out a Christmas tree, the song is virtually inescapable.
I remember, for instance, the year when a family member of mine put a lot of effort into compiling and binding enough christmas carol books for each member of our rather large family. We all sat down with every intention to chant a few christmas carols, but quickly realized that despite the continuous loop they appear to be on from Halloween to New Year’s Day, none of us really knew what we were singing… even with the lovely, bound booklets my aunt had made. Who knew that Frosty the Snowman has three distinct verses?! That said, the one song we all made it through was Silent Night. It felt like an accomplishment, but I think secretly we were all grateful it was over…
The true sentiment behind Silent Night is never really what jumps to mind when you hear the song, is it? Your mind never really races to that serene country church glowing in the darkness of a cold winter’s night (above). It’s probably for the best, since I doubt there were many churches covered in snow on night of Christ’s birth anyway.
Last night I attended a holiday party at my family friend’s house. There were no Christmas Carols, but the jovial ambiance and warmth emanating from the busting Gold Coast home would have done nicely as that memory evoked by hearing a Christmas carol.
People who hadn’t seen each other in ages flocked to the kitchen, sharing food, drink and stories of their children and travels over the past year. It was exactly the type of scene you would expect from a movie montage playing a song like Silent Night in the
background as the scene fades to black and the credits roll at the resolution of a Christmas movie about a great group of friends.
But this year I experienced a whole new take on Silent Night. Having just had surgery on my throat, I attended this gathering of some of my family’s closest friends as a mute. I was never worried about feeling out of place around this group of people, but the thought did occur to me, how much could I enjoy a party of which I couldn’t really be a part?
To my surprise, I enjoyed the party more than I’ve enjoyed a holiday party in a long time. There’s something to be said about the power of quiet observation. I was able to take in every interaction, every detail of the party unfolding around me.
From my perch on the couch that I occupied the entire night, I noticed things like the genuine smiles on peoples’ faces when they greeted each other, and I caught up (vicariously) with more people than I could have possibly talked to that night.
The most endearing thing was that despite my complete silence, I was never alone on that couch. There was a constant stream of people who would come sit by me on the couch and put their arms around me wishing me a speedy recovery. They would ask me as many yes or no questions as they could muster, and then almost as suddenly as they arrived, they would depart to get more wine or talk to someone who could hold a conversation.
This was a completely unique experience for me, and if I learned anything from it, I believe the lesson would be that we should all spend a little more time being silent and taking things in… whether it’s the energy of a room full of friends, the beauty of a piece of music or a passage from the book we’re reading. But especially, perhaps, as a speaking member of society, we should all spend a little more time really listening to what the other person has to say and less time thinking about what we can throw into the conversation as soon as he or she is done speaking.
You never know what you might learn in one silent night.