All the best things are acts of love. This day the ultimate: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.’’
Elaborate myth or simple fact, it’s the love of Jesus Christ that propels Christmas. All the tender stories we tell this time of year, all the things we do for one another, the gifts we give, the love we share, Santa Claus himself.
All are part of this love.
We love in so many ways. We love without thinking. Why do we send cards if not to show people we don’t talk to every day or month or even every six months that we think about them and that we care?
Why do we work so hard dressing up our houses, our yards, and our gifts? We do it for love. We want people to love the candles in our windows, the wreaths on our doors, the big inflatable Santas and snowmen that make children smile, the bows, the bells, all the over-the-top glitz.
Why do we work overtime, scrimping and saving, just to give away what we earn? Why do we cook and bake and give away these things too, open our doors and our hearts every year, year after year, if not for love? Why do people volunteer to help the needy and give to My Brother’s Keeper, Globe Santa, the Salvation Army, shelters, charities, and food banks everywhere?
For more than 20 years, on the Sunday before Christmas, my husband and I have attended a Christmas party in Braintree. The first year, we knew only the hostess’s son. We had not met his mother, Jane, or any family and friends, and had no presentiment that this group of strangers would, in time, become family and friends to us.
My mother was one reason. She was a singer, not professional but she sang at parties and at minstrel shows and at home as she vacuumed and washed dishes and got dressed for work, the hi-fi always on, the sound of her voice a big part of my life.
When she was 47, she fell down her cellar stairs and never sang again. But I still could hear her in my mind. I still do.
The night of Jane’s party, that first night, there was music, lots of it, a piano player, Christmas carols, group songs, and soloists. The whole Cronin family sang. Jane’s sisters; Jane’s children.
But it was Jane’s singing that filled my heart and broke it at the same time.
Jane’s voice, the tremble in it, the purity, was so like my mother’s. It cut me off at the knees, but gave me wings, too. Her voice made my spirit soar.
I left that first party hoping we would be invited again.
And we were. And there was music, and Jane sang again. And again I hung on every note, on every syllable.
I still do.
I don’t remember when her singing stopped breaking my heart and simply filled it, just as I don’t remember when all the people who used to be strangers became friends.
But it happened.
I asked her last Sunday why she began the tradition of this party. And she said that after her husband died, her children, who were young, needed something to take away some of their sadness.
She did it for them, she said. To give them some joy.
She did it for love.
Eighteen years ago Jane married Dick Kelley and the family doubled in size.
His children; her children; all their children.
They could have a party all by themselves these days.
But every year they continue to include us.
And every year this is my favorite gift: Gerry Gottschalk at the piano, the Cronin-Kelley family gathered around, Dick and Jane welcoming everyone with a duet, Jane’s daughter Grace singing “O Holy Night.’’
And then Jane singing, her voice, this simple act of love, transporting me home.