I have joined Floss and others in a Pause in Advent. Check out Floss's site for a list of other bloggers participating in this annual event.
I'm composing a playlist of Christmas carols that I'm not sick to death of hearing. I love Bing and Perry and Andy Williams and Burl Ives, but I've been listening to them sing "White Christmas" and "Frosty" and "The Christmas Song" for nigh onto fifty years now and can no longer really hear them. I need new versions, new songs.
On my playlist I have the great Odetta's "What Month was Jesus Born In" and "Shout for Joy," and the strange and enchanting Sufjan Stevens' "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." I have Big Star singing "Jesus Christ (was born today)." And I have what may be my favorite Christmas carol of all time, Tom Waits' "A Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis."
There's actually no mention of Christmas at all in this song. It starts out with the narrator writing to her friend Charlie, telling him that she's pregnant,
"and I stopped taking dope
and I quit drinking whiskey
and my old man plays the trombone
and works out at the track.
and he says that he loves me
even though it's not his baby
and he says that he'll raise him up
like he would his own son
and he gave me a ring
that was worn by his mother
and he takes me out dancin
every saturday nite."
The next few stanzas continue on describing how good the narrator's life is. And then we get to the end of the song:
do you want to know
the truth of it?
I don't have a husband
he don't play the trombone
and I need to borrow money
to pay this lawyer
and Charlie, hey
I'll be eligible for parole
come Valentines day. "
It's right around this time--a week away from Christmas--where I start to feel like the narrator of this song. I'm trying to paint a beautiful picture with the Christmas tree, the lights and decorations, the house that smells like Christmas cookies and banana bread. But it's too much. Suddenly I'm cranky and out of sorts, on the verge of getting a cold. Hey, Charlie, you wanna know the truth of it? I'm not all that merry and bright.
And that, my dears, is when Christmas really starts, when I'm ready to tell the truth about my own poverty. I don't have a husband and he don't play the trombone. Most days I'm stuck in a jail of my own making.
Christmas is about many things, but to me, for it to have real meaning, Christmas has to be about hope. O come, o come Emmanuel, pay my bail. Shine a little light in this darkness.
It's no coincidence that the narrator of this song is writing a Christmas card. It's no coincidence that she's a hooker. Jesus served the lowliest of the low. Some say he preferred them. For those of us who have money, nice homes, status, sometimes we forget our poverty. It's only when we hit the wall that we see the light shining from the other side.