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Andy Lippman: It’s Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas

It’s already sounding a lot like Christmas.
And those Christmas carols you hear seem to get earlier every year.
Not that I’m complaining. I love Christmas music.
Christmas music seems to have become the nation’s earworm. I can’t think of any other holiday when that is more true.
And I say, “What’s wrong with that?”
“I feel that Christmas music is idiomatic. It has characteristics easily identified as Christmas music: bells, sleighs, hoofs, soloists singing with a chorus,” explained the Rev. Millason Dailey, pastor at Calvary Presbyterian Church, at 1050 Fremont Ave., in South Pasadena.
“There’s a circular nature to Christmas music. The hymns and carols and theological songs we sing in church are the same ones we sing at home or that are playing on the radio.
Dailey noted that even musicians of faiths other than Christian are moved to put out Christmas albums — some I suspect for commercial reasons — but others because they like the music.

Pastor Sam Park leads ReNew United Methodist Church in South Pasadena

Pastor Sam Park, leader of ReNew United Methodist Church, at 699 Monterey Ave., noted that music and worship have always been tied because they both touch the soul and the spirit.
“The themes have transcendent values. Handel’s ‘Messiah’ has been popular for hundreds of years,” Park said. “The themes of Christmas are uplifting themes: ‘Jingle Bells.’ ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas.’”
It’s almost like carols are too good. And as merchants rush the season — it seems to me that we jumped right from Halloween to the holiday season and skipped right over Thanksgiving — people are hearing sleigh bells in their songs earlier than ever.
I heard my first carol of the year the first week of November while on my way to a doctor’s appointment.
For Dailey, who has been senior pastor at Calvary since 2016, that’s a bit of a problem.
“There is a struggle to follow the liturgical season. We don’t sing Christmas carols in church during Advent, although some may have been identified as such,” said Dailey, who noted that even the church decorations gradually increased each Sunday prior to Christmas Eve.
Advent, the four Sundays before Christmas, act as a time of reflection and anticipation of the birth of Jesus. Advent began this year on Dec. 3. The Presbyterian Church and other Christian denominations, celebrate Christmastide, the 12 days of Christmas.
“Some parishioners are upset that we are not singing Christmas carols in church in November. I love the eagerness, but I don’t want the culture to dictate how we celebrate in church,” she said.
“In the Presbyterian Church, there are 12 days of Christmas. We don’t want those days to be given short shrift. Some people might ask why we are singing carols on Dec. 31. The answer is that it is still Christmas.”
The caroling really begins after the Christmas Eve service when people holding lit candles gather outside the church to sing.
“We just go crazy,” she said. “Christmas Eve is kind of our Super Bowl in terms of holiday worship.”
Park incorporates Christmas music for all of Advent: “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem” and songs like that.
“We love Advent songs. We sing Christmas songs. At our candlelight service, we go outside and sing ‘Silent Night.’
“We do four Sundays of Advent and then Renew usually does a candlelight service on Christmas eve, and does not do a Christmas day service.”
ReNew will not have a Christmas eve service this year, while Calvary will not do a Christmas Day service .
Just say “hello” to Dailey and you will see how outgoing she is, and she — just like her mother — loves Christmas and all that goes with it. There are years that she helps cook the congregation’s Christmas brunch. And she makes tins of cookies, with the help of her 8-year-old daughter.
“I enjoy being a hostess and putting on Christmas for others,” Dailey said.
Calvary has a rich tradition of music in its church, and its music director Mike Wilson, is also in charge of the organ at Walt Disney Music Center. The church sometimes hires professional musicians and singers to enhance its service.
Until COVID, it presented the “Messiah” every Christmas season, but that has not been the case for the past few years, and its absence has been noticed by people who have called the church office.
Dailey noted the cost of putting on such a production. My suggestion is that someone or some business might want to help underwrite the effort and get “Messiah” back as a tradition in the community.
Park’s voice is its own instrument-along with musicians who play at services throughout the year. His singing — sometimes accompanied by his guitar playing — helps bring home his message. He is often accompanied throughout the year by other musicians.
“Every pastor has strengths and passions. Mine happens to be music,” Park said.
That message, he said, is often a challenge for a minister. The Christmas story is only actually mentioned a few times in the Gospel and it’s a challenge to keep his sermons fresh every year.
“There is a joy in the message. You are preaching new life, love, peace and hope that we all share,” said Park, whose congregation earlier this year received its charter as an official member of the United Methodist Church.
Keep in mind that ReNew in its current form is a relative infant and it was only 1 year old when COVID hit. So, the congregation has had only two Christmases together, and averages about 40 people at its Sunday services.
Park’s message on this holiday is that there is nothing wrong with small beginnings.
“God came to us as a child. Mary and Joseph had no idea [who] they were giving birth to,” he said.
“We are just starting out. There is a lot of hope.”
Park’s congregation isn’t old enough to have a true gauge of how many people might come for holiday services in the future.
But Dailey said that her attendance at Christmas Eve services, or at Easter, can be 60-70% higher than at a normal time. The congregation has about 120 members.
Dailey has been married for 17 years to the pastor at St. James Presbyterian Church in Tarzana , and their daughter switches between mom and dad every year for the holidays, always with relatives and friends to keep her company. They open presents on Christmas morning.
“We’ve always worked at separate churches so we are used to coordinating schedules and being busy both during Advent and the rest of the season,” Dailey said.
Dailey recalled her childhood when her mom loved Christmas so much that the house was decorated to the point where there were small Christmas soaps which were meant to be seen and not used.
Park said that his participation in holiday festivities were primarily in the church, since his single mom was busy running a dry cleaning business which wasn’t closed except on Sundays and holidays such as Christmas.
So, don’t turn off those holidays songs, no matter how ludicrous “White Christmas” may seem when it is 80 degrees outside.
Listen. Enjoy. Reflect.

First published in the December 14 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

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