Wednesday, December 15, 2010

O Holy Night

It was Christmas Eve, 1974.

Three generations of a family gathered in a small, smoky living room in a house on Fairfield, Maine's Montcalm Street to celebrate the pending arrival of another Christmas.

The family's patriarch - a bald, slender man with glasses - sat among them, smiling in the company of his family as his five-year-old grandson sidled up to him shyly, his hand firmly grasping his mother's. The crowd quieted as she explained that her son had something he wanted to share with them.

In a small voice that grew steadily in strength and intensity, the boy sang without accompaniment the words his mother had taught him to memorize over several weeks.

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! O hear the angels' voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

The boy then boldly sang the second verse, his mother smiling with pride as the old man removed his glasses and wiped tears from his eyes. His son - the boy's father - did the same from across the room.

Nearly 36 Christmases later, I still remember in great detail the night I sang for my grandfather. What I did not know then, and could not fully appreciate until I grew older, was the significance of singing that song for my grandfather, father and other family members who gathered that night.

For many years, O Holy Night was the song my grandfather performed at Christmas, his rich, baritone voice filling the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Fairfield where generations of Begin family members worshipped.

His gift of song was an important part of my father's Christmas memories, one made even more so in later years when Alzheimer's robbed my grandfather of his ability to sing.

It became my father's favorite song - one that filled him with emotion because of its powerful message and his memory of the messenger who proclaimed it each Yuletide.

When my father was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer in early December 1995, I sang and recorded O Holy Night as my final Christmas gift to him. Overcome with emotion and thoughts of losing the man I loved most in the world, I knew I could never sing it in person.

And now, 36 years after my mother patiently taught me the verses, I will teach my own children the lyrics to this beautiful song.

It will be my simple gift to them, one whose spirit and meaning will long outlast the brightly wrapped presents they will open Christmas morning.


  1. Touching story. Christmas was my mother's favorite time of year. I can still hear the special joy in her voice and smell the aromas from the oven that seemed to envelope our home during the yuletide season.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. I too remember Pepere singing the song. He sang it in both French and English. To this day my mom gets choked up when she hears the song. And, it is still my favorite of all. I enjoy going to Midnight Mass as we sing it each year too.

    Beth Ferland

  3. thanks John for bringing back all those child hood memories, I remember so well our wonderful grandfather singing that most beautiful song,yes our family song forever.take care, love ya and merry christmas. Emily