The day before Christmas I drove to a Barnes and Noble bookstore to buy a DVD copy of Andrea Bocelli's My Christmas. The morning was gray and cold, yet there was quite a crowd in the nearby open space. A large group of young students with violins and a couple of cellos was gathering around a teacher, who appeared to be giving them some pep talk and final instructions.
When I came out of the store it was drizzling and the bare trees were shaking in the chilly wind. I was shivering and hurrying towards my car when the music suddenly started, sonorous and cheerfully filling up the air. People stopped what they were doing to listen to familiar tunes such as Good King Wenceslas and Away In A Manger. The music was not skillfully played, but the joy in it was more than enough to keep the bitter cold at bay.
I went to church on Christmas Eve. As usual, bad music was superfluously presented and a bad sermon was solemnly delivered to the audience. To them I was giving just a fraction of my attention, the rest being bestowed on a boy of four or five sitting next to me. He was handsomely dressed in a small three-piece suit complete with a red tie for the festive occasion, but he seemed to care neither for the suit nor the occasion. He was totally absorbed in drawing with his pencil on a blank church offering envelope nicked from a slot at the back of the pew in front of us.
When the kid finished his masterpiece I saw that it was a head with donkey ears and a big tongue hanging out of the mouth. It was so comical that I almost burst out laughing, and I wondered if he had pulled the image out of his own little head or he had been inspired by the uptight and eloquent preacher at the pulpit.
One more song by the choir and he was already in deep slumber, mouth opened, suit askew and hair tousled. I was musing that a mischievous little boy sleeping in a church might be the perfect image for Christmas when the congregation was asked to stand up for a prayer. I stood up, glanced down at the boy and was astonished to see another one, smaller but also suit-clad and asleep with open mouth, until then hidden from my view by the other boy whom I presumed to be his big brother. The two kids were leaning against each other, happily lost in their dreamland and completely oblivious to the fussy celebration surrounding them.
Now when I think of Christmas, I think of two little boys fast asleep in a crowded church instead of Santa Claus or bright decorations. That, and the clumsy yet sincere music played by those schoolboys and girls on a cold, gray, windy and drizzling morning. In my reckoning, they are more to the point of Christmas than any sleek performance or display.