As with so many aspects of life, women have an edge over men when it comes to appreciating Christmas. Men can look into the pinched-dough features of a newborn child and be moved by the thought of God as Newborn Babe. Fathers appreciate this. But mothers get it.*
So it is no surprise that women performers produce some of the most moving Christmas music. My daughters really like Carolyn Arends' Christmas CD (A); my wife is partial to Emmylou Harris'(A). There is much I enjoy in both discs, but nothing moves me quite like The Darkest Night Of The Year by Over The Rhine.
Today marks the longest night of the year. As another Mary points out, this is not the time of year a person naturally feels like singing the Magnificat. That Christendom finally superimposed this particularly Christian moment over this particular time of year makes for "holy days" that are rife with ironies -- so much so that the ironies threaten to overwhelm even the deepest, most revered metaphors of hope, humility and love.
Returning to the Magnificat, it is for me one of the most beautiful passages of scripture. But I have to admit, it takes some effort for me to let it past the Adult Reader Filter that screams, "AFTER THE FACT! AFTER THE FACT!!" The larger "fact" remains: these words embody not just a primal hope, but the desperation it tries to resist.
I think that's the quality I find in this particular performance by Over The Rhine. Despite the cover's depiction of an angel deafening a human, this is an album with varying shades of quiet disquiet. Especially in Karin Bergquist's vocals there is a sense that true hope resists and speaks obliquely to the desperation that bears down on it. It has to, otherwise it is not hope at all, but something shallow and disposable.
Not this. This is music to accompany the listener through the longest -- and darkest -- night of the year.
Links: The Darkest Night Of The Year (A, e). Over The Rhine (h).
*Post-script: I can't write this without including the old Jewish joke: How do we know Jesus was Jewish? He lived with his parents until he was 30; he thought his mother was a virgin; she thought her son was God.