The last note of “Joy to the World” rings out in the church, the clear trumpet tone floating over the top. Silence ensues. Applause erupts for the second time. Singers and musicians set down their books and their instruments, hug, shake hands, and wish each other Merry Christmas. In the midst of the merriment, the strains of “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy” filter through, along with information: We’re doing The Virgin Mary again! Musicians and singers scramble back to their spots, and the band rocks out the Caribbean hymn one more time. Stragglers clap a third time.
Our Christmas Eve parish liturgy has been one for the books, not only for the parish, but for our family. Our three children played bass and trumpet, and sang. Two spouses sang from the pew. My sister and her family joined in the choir. All ten of us, musicians since our childhood, have come together from Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan and California, to celebrate Christmas and to have some musical fun. Collaborating with the parish organist and drummer, along with a few choir regular members and alumni, sixteen in all, we have as a corollary created and shared a singular moment in family history. Our orendas, already potent as singular forces, ignite magic when the individual sparks combust.
For the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), the orenda is a supernatural force present in varying degrees in every living and non-living thing. Through that spirit, all human accomplishment is possible. In his book, The Orenda, Joseph Boyden calls it magic. Maybe it’s fitting that I finished reading the novel as we celebrate another orenda, that of the Christ child whose birth we commemorate, and whose spirit combined with ours in that magical shared moment. We may not make music together again for a long time, if ever. But we have this Christmas Eve mass, and we can recreate it with a simple, Remember when . . . ?
During the ensuing thirty-six hours, separate orendas crystallize one molecule at a time, creating holograms of remembered identity, and bonding to form new compounds of togetherness. We gather at the table as we have since my sister and I were children, as a nuclear family for réveillon, the traditional French-Canadian post-midnight-mass bash, as well as the next evening, an extended family now, for Christmas dinner. In the turkey stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, tourtière, butter tarts, and wine, we honour our French-Canadian roots. In the cabbage rolls and apple strudel, we acknowledge the cultural traditions of our spouses. In the salmon mousse, chocolate mascarpone crèpes and birthday trifle, we cultivate our own traditions. Blessed by Memère’s grace, these foods incarnate absent loved ones, and remind us of who we are because of them.
The spirit of togetherness developed in the music and the feasting is nurtured further in the games. Elmer and the kids continue to build shared experience by taking out the snow machines for a few hours on a balmy winter day. They frolick and ski. During indoor games like Taboo, structured in large teams, everyone’s abilities and idiosyncrasies shine and surprise. We share stories, and recall childhood games like Button, Button, a gift from Grandma, where the object is to guess which person’s hand conceals a stray button. The bonds forged during these hours are indissoluble.
To family, music, food, and games, we add the celebration of our Christmas daughter's thirtieth birthday. We tell the story of her birth--the midnight labour, the frigid night, so cold the air solidified and breath could be sliced, the morning birth, and the announcement during the homily at mass on Christmas morning.
The Christmas Orenda has been an alchemy of these elements. Decorations, gifts, clothing, or any of the products ubiquitous ads on television and the Internet have tried to convince us to purchase over the last few months have contributed little, if anything. The magic has come from togetherness.