If you’re anything like me, one of the things you like most about Christmas is the music. I have it on at home, in my classroom, in my car…pretty much everywhere I go. I love to hear popular hits like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” and “White Christmas” (The Drifters’ version is my favorite!), but songs that focus on the true meaning of Christmas, Jesus’ birth, are my favorite. I sing “Silent Night” to my babies as they drift to sleep. I hum along to “O Holy Night” and “The First Noel” because singing is not my gift. I’d rather hear Josh Grobin and Pentatonix serenade me. But, there are three modern day religious Christmas songs that resonate with me the most. You may have never heard of them, but you should take the time to listen to them this season.
1. “Sweet Little Baby Boy” by: James Brown
We all know James Brown as the Godfather of Soul, who capitalized on the phrase “I Feel Good” with his hit of the same name. His funky vibe makes even the grouchiest sports fan stand up and groove when his voice blares through the stadium speakers. But, James Brown had a much softer side, which can be experienced when you listen to “Sweet Little Baby Boy.”
I first heard this song when Collin was a baby. As a new mom, I imagined the love that Mary must have felt for her sweet little baby boy. I had also recently experienced a resurgence of my faith and connected when James’ Brown says “He restored my mind” and “My mother told me this story…The greatest love story ever told.”
I like the soulful vibe and refrain of “Sweet Little Baby Boy” reminding me that Jesus was once like my sweet babies. It’s almost a lullaby. (From James Brown of all people!)
2. “Christmas Song” by Dave Matthews Band
Dave Matthews Band at the center of the upbeat, “Jam-band” music scene of the late 1990s and early 2000. (They’re still around and make for an excellent live music experience.) It’s a large band which features instruments beyond the normal rock realm of guitars and drums. There’s also a trumpet player, a saxophonist, a violinist, and a keyboardist. But, “Christmas Song” is a very simple masterpiece consisting of a combo of one gentle voice and two acoustic guitars.
This song stirs my emotions and invigorates my faith. It tells the story of Jesus’ entire life, reminding listeners over and over that no matter what happened, “his heart was full of love.” It’s an important message about His mission on Earth as well as His mission for us on Earth. And it started with a tiny baby.
I dare you to listen to this song without crying.
3. “Ave Maria” by Chris Cornell featuring Eleven
Yes, of course, you’ve heard this song before, but never like this. Chris Cornell was the lead singer of Soundgarden, a 1990s hard rock superpower from Seattle. Many music critics (including my brother and I) agree that he has the best voice of his era. He produces a unique and powerful sound. Every lyric he sings, he means, and there’s no greater version of that than his version of “Ave Maria.”
In this version of my absolute favorite hymn, Chris Cornell’s remarkable voice presents as an unexpected blend of mega rock star and opera singer. Rather than raging electric guitars and heavy drums, a traditional orchestra consumes the background to act as a meditative force so that you can focus your thoughts on Mary and Her incredible gift to us.
This beautiful song has stood the test of time and I was happy to locate a version that balanced both my modern and traditional tastes in music. Try it. I guarantee you’ll be surprised.
You can find all of these songs on iTunes or Google Play. I hope you enjoy them! Please let me know what you think!
December 09, 2016 04:31
By Robyn Barberry
One of my favorite Christmas traditions is driving around to look at lights. When my brother and I were growing up, we were like network commentators during Macy’s Thanksgiving parade (or any given NFL game) on our trips around the neighborhood and to Baltimore’s famed 34th street, pointing out highlights to the left, the right and up ahead.
It’s been a joy to continue this tradition with our boys. Our neighborhood boasts a few spectacular light shows, but we’re always hunting throughout Harford County (and occasionally beyond) for lights that inspire “oohs”, “ahhs”, and in Frank’s case – “yays”.
When Collin began preschool, his teacher told us that the class would be collecting pennies for a boy named Ryan in December and visiting a Christmas light display dedicated to him. Last Thursday, we had the honor of visiting the Vogt House on Harrogate Drive in Abingdon. We’d driven by before, and were impressed, but when we got out of the car to take it all in, we were filled with awe.
You could see it on the children’s faces as they crowded around Santa’s workshop, peeping in the windows down low at what? – I’m not sure I’ll ever know. You could see it on the parent’s faces as they traced the lights overhead and were dazzled by the sheer number covering the modest, yet magnificent house. There are trees, character cutouts, and even a tunnel.
We were honored to meet Mr. Vogt, himself, who told us that his light display started in 1990, as a way of making up to his daughter for a year without lights. In 2006, it took on a charitable meaning.
The two most important parts of the display remain. One is the donation pipe. 100% of the money donated, including the change collected by Collin’s class, goes to the Ryan Leung Autism Fund. It helps to pay for Ryan’s camp and therapies, both vital to his social progress.
The other most important part of the display is also the one highest up. Mr. Vogt has installed a glowing red cross way up high behind the house. You can’t miss it. Next to it is a lighted banner which reads, “Keep Christ in Christmas.”
Here’s a brief interview
with Mr. Vogt about his light display. (You’ll need to login to Facebook to see it.)
If you live in Harford County or plan on visiting this holiday season, please stop by the Vogt house. I’d also love to hear about some other over-the-top light displays from near or far!
December 17, 2013 09:10
By Robyn Barberry
Now that Collin is 4, I feel the need to go in greater depth when telling the story of the Nativity. He likes to ask "Why?" questions in his quest for greater detail. And like the children in at the beginning of the claymation holiday classic "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" or like Clarence, George Bailey's guardian angel in "It's a Wonderful Life," Collin was curious about the details surrounding some of the characters associated with Christmas. I let him know about Santa and Rudolph, but made sure he understood the person who matters most this time of year: Jesus.
One of the ways I explained the folk and religious stories behind Christmas was through books. (I'll be publishing a list of my top titles next week). I also used movies, though most were on the commercial end of things. But one new way I've added to my Christmas-sharing repertoire is the use of apps.
Collin and Frank love to play on my iPad. I keep a few educational games handy for them for long waits during outings or as a pre-bed wind-down. One of the apps I've added recently is "Christmas Story Premium" by TinySparks.
(Photo via itunes.apple.com)
"Christmas Story Premium" is an interactive storybook, which allows children to read the poetic version of St. Luke's gospel on their own or have it read to them in a man's gentle voice. Tinkly bells play music in the background and sound effects signal a page change or the placement of a puzzle piece (more on that later). All of the sounds may be turned on or off.
The pictures are soothing to look at and seem like digitally created watercolor and ink paintings. In addition to acting as an electronic book, the app offers very simple puzzles, most of which are based on images from the story.
Collin is beginning to understand the Christmas story better now, and I think the app has helped. He was, for awhile, focused on Mary's lack of shoes, but after I explained that Jesus' family was very poor, he began to zone in on the parts of the pictures that really matter.
Hearing and seeing the story read over and over on the iPad has been effective, as Collin is beginning to say the words along with the narrator. Repetition is important for children, in identical forms and through variety - hence my additional use of books and traditional storytelling from memory.
Still, no matter how hard I try, I can't replicate my speech in the exact same way every time I read like this app can. For Collin, who likes to mimic the precise tones and cadences of his favorite movie quotes, uniformity of sound is vital.
My main criticism of the "Christmas Story Premium" is that it doesn't offer coloring, puzzles, and/or games, as it's competitors do. Additionally, the others' images are also a bit brighter and more kid-friendly.
Overall, the repetition and simplicity of this app is ideal for my young children, who need to see and hear this beautiful story in every way possible.
"Christmas Story Premium" is available for iPad only and retails 99 cents at Apple's App Store
December 13, 2013 02:14
By Robyn Barberry
This year my husband and I have boldly decided to give our son the most taboo of Christmas presents: a drum set. Are we crazy? Perhaps. We blame love.
After we deliberated about said drum set, our reasons for giving in selflessly to the desire of our young son’s heart outweighed our own personal preferences.
Drums are present in just about every culture because they enable people to express themselves physically and emotionally. In America, the heart of any successful music group is the drummer, tucked away in the back, like the Wizard behind the curtain punctuating every phrase with booms, taps, and tings.
But good drummers are hard to find, because most parents are quick to shove “forgiving” and “quiet” instruments into their children’s hands rather than drums. Drums are loud, especially in a small house with thin walls like ours. But drums are important, and we’ve pushed our children away from them for too long. I almost did.
Collin first discovered the drums on Thanksgiving at my cousin’s house. He calmly approached the set, picked up the sticks and instinctively knew what to do. He was having so much fun, giggling, banging, and crashing, that I knew what was coming next.
“Mommy, can I get drums?” Collin asked.
Oh no, I told myself. How do I get out of this one? So, I went back to the old Christmas copout – “Why don’t you ask Santa?”
Since then, we’ve attended Beatlemania Again and Archbishop Curley’s Christmas Concert . Both shows were fantastic all around, but Collin zoned in on Ringo and the Friars’ percussion section, nodding his head, bouncing, and tapping his foot to the beat. His plea, “I want drums,” grew stronger and louder.
I spoke to a music teacher, a church choir director, a friend who drums in a local band, and a high school student to determine if drums would be good for Collin. I was met with a resounding “yes,” and advised by all parties to consider the First Act brand because it’s inexpensive, durable, and authentic.
Finally, Santa said yes, but only if Collin’s mom and dad would pick it up for him. “I can’t believe we’re really doing this,” I told my husband as we loaded the miniature drum set into our Toys ‘R Us cart.
“He’s our little drummer boy,” he said.
And he is. Collin doesn’t know how to make beats and keep rhythm yet, but that’s what lessons are for. Fortunately, we have a few drummer friends who have offered to teach him and the patience to allow him to learn out loud. (There are also headphones).
He may only be 3, and I have no expectations for him to be the next Ringo Starr, but an introduction to drums is an important way for Collin to begin to understand the rhythm of the world, its rises and falls, its sudden intrusions, and the things that never change.
I made the decision to never silence a happy child awhile ago. To do so is ignoring a gift from God. I’m just glad for every moment I have with my children, no matter how much ruckus that might entail. Psalms 100 and 150 tell us to make a joyful noise unto the Lord and praise him with the loudest of instruments. And that’s just what Collin will do.
December 19, 2012 02:34
By Robyn Barberry