This is a jauntier melody than most of our Advent hymns. I can almost envision it as a circle dance with clapping, stomping, and spontaneous whooping for joy. It fits our modern traditions for this time of year of parties and childish excitement. The notations in The Faith We Sing hymnal cite the music as a “Traditional Israeli folk song”. If you’ve ever attended a traditional Jewish wedding, I think you’ll be able to imagine it like I am. Though it fits the secular mood, it might feel like a departure from our more serious minor-keyed Advent hymns of longing and preparation.
Even the children might notice and inquire about the whole track of our faith’s Advent observances and why we have to wait soooo loooong for Santa to come? We could tell them that the real St. Nicholas was a generous but modest bishop (red suit) in Turkey in the 4th century who secretly dropped coins down the chimney of the home of a poor family with three daughters, some fell in the stockings that were hung up to dry. For hundreds of years after, St. Nicholas was just associated with secret gifts in general but the stories about him spread across Europe because he was the patron saint of children and of sailors. After the Reformation, the stories and traditions around saints became unpopular, but someone still had to deliver gifts to children on Christmas and so England and other Western European countries modeled “Father Christmas” or “Kris Kringle” on St. Nicholas. The Dutch settlers brought “Sinterklaas” with them to America, who is known to us today as Santa Claus. I digress.
My point is that if we still observed Advent like the earlier Christians as a time of fasting, penance, and reflection, a joyful and celebratory song like this might be welcome relief, especially for children! And it is not contradictory to the liturgical season. In the first half of the season we hear stories and prophecies of a promised Messiah to deliver the Hebrew people who had been suffering in darkness for longer than anyone could remember. Adults may long for deliverance with barely more than despair and anxiety in their hearts, but children anticipate the arrival of something wonderful with giddy, energetic, honest to goodness hope! They trust what we’ve told them and they trust their shorter, but purer experience. So, let’s take this cue from the ancient Hebrews and go ahead and celebrate the promise of new kingdom with a little child leading the way.
Prayer: O God, we thank you for your generous servants like St. Nicholas, our children, and strangers who smile, who deliver gifts of joy for those who are too weary. Amen.