When my family moved to the U.S. in the late seventies, we were very poor. My parents didn't see any need to have jobs and "run the rat race", so we made a living as singing street performers. Most days people browsed by, looking at us as oddities singing random songs on sidewalks and storefronts. The ambivalent crowds would file by and occasionally some would stop for a minute to listen, and maybe throw some change into the open guitar case providing us the possibility of something to eat that night. Sometimes we would not get much and would end up at a fast food restaurant just before closing, asking if we could have whatever leftover food they would be throwing out in exchange for a few songs.
Christmas season things were different. We would ditch our usual list of songs in favor of the seasonal favorites people wanted to hear. The warm well lit summer evenings gave way to cold dark nights. The streets were full of activity. Banners, garland, and lights hung from street lamps and store windows. The ordinarily uninterested crowds stopped and gathered in mass to listen to what we were singing. I remember how they would always form a half circle in front of us, smiling, sometimes swaying, sometimes singing along, always more generous. People were active, bustling, busy, but at the same time much more attentive.
I remember lights, the smell of coffee and chocolate, cigarettes, crowds, things that sparkled. The once plain streets transformed by the seasons change. I remember the generosity of strangers. Even when it was measured in handfuls of change, the little gestures of kindness were the difference between eating and being hungry that night. I like to think that we gave them something in return as well. I like to think that we gave them a moments break from their busy days and nights trying to bring everything together for they people they were close too.
I still fight the urge to cry every time I hear "O Holy Night". It brings back the feelings of wonder and beauty I used to feel as a child. Sorry if this reads sappy.