Those aren’t the words I know. My son is sprawled on the rug, hitching up a tractor and trailer, and taking liberties with lyrics. There aren’t enough machines mentioned in his song repertoire, so he’s re-purposing “This Land Is Your Land.” Woodie Guthrie’s song is being populated with excavators and front-end loaders. Not that Guthrie would object – his songs often grew new verses or underwent spontaneous substitutions.
I believe that music is every child’s birthright. I’m not talking about canned music, shrilling through speakers or ear buds, synthesized and sterile. I mean songs with humble origins, growing, changing, shared among friends on a winter evening – songs that celebrate the seasons of the planet and the heart.
The professionalism of commercial music may have scared us away from attempting our own unpolished melodies. If so, we need to climb back into childhood and lose our self-consciousness along the way. Perhaps the best time to do that is at Christmas, when in public places we’re bombarded with every tune from the sacred to the inane.
Last year, I was toting my son along in my shopping cart, dodging through the Christmas crush, when he looked up into my face in alarm. “Why did they just do that?”
“What?” I whipped around, looking for an altercation.
“No,” he said. “In the music. They just ran ‘Jingle Bells’ into ‘Away in a Manger.’” I hadn’t heard anything more than seamless background noise. He had heard a collision of two unrelated songs.
Does he have an aversion to ‘Jingle Bells’? No. We live in the country; he’s ridden in a sleigh; it jingled, jolly good fun in January. Does it relate to a baby who had no crib for a bed? Not really. Children are hungry for meaning, for a song they can claim as their own. Our favorite Christmas song is a simple dedication to the baby without a crib:
Advent, we are waiting for Advent
with your candles,
for now in this darkness
the light will come once more.
This year a new verse appeared: “Jesus, we are waiting for Jesus, with your kingdom.” A child’s longing for a special birth now reaches toward rebirth for all people.