Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sleigh Bells Ring, Are you Listening?

The sweet sound of bells gives me my salt as winter deepens into the end of the calendar year. That and the crunch of snow.

Coming from northern Wisconsin, you get versed in what “really cold” means. It's the below zero days and nights when boots on snow creak under your feet. When just turning the tires of a car makes the snow squeak and protest beneath the frozen rubber. You just know that unless there is salt spread liberally on the road, you're as liable to end up in the ditch as at your destination. Over it all sweeps the grandeur of the northern lights, majestic ribbons of rainbow light sprawling and swirling across the night sky.

Most have never ridden in a sleigh. I grew up on a farm with two draft horses named Prince and Pearl, and a couple of rickety sleighs. Our city cousins loved to come to the farm during the holidays, where Dad would hitch the horses to one of the sleighs, put on his old fur coat (homemade from trapping lines on the farm) and jingle us out into the fields of snow. The jingle bells weren't on the sleigh. They were on the horse harnesses. Dad communicated with those horse with the mere flick of the reins. Dad, the horses and the bells were one. It is a favorite memory of my Father.

For most, the sound of sleigh bells is a foreign thing. For them, bells mean the sound of church bells on a winter's day. The jingle bells hanging from the office decorations. Or the sound of Salvation Army bells being rung at the red kettles standing sentinel at store entrances. The tinkling sweetness of the sound brings to my throat the reserves of gratitude I feel for just being sheltered and warm at night, the love I have for family and friends near and far. It also brings the sadness of the great need in our world and how small I feel until I drop in my quarters or dollars, receiving more in grace from my gift than I deserve.

For young ones or those who remain young in heart, the sound of the bells is often the first gift of Christmas. It is the signal to believe, as in one of our family's favorite Christmas tales, The Polar Express, that there is a spirit of generosity about in the world. I still hear the bells and I hope I always do.

My Father wrote of traveling to the Norske Evangelical Lutheran church as a young child, secure between his parents in the sleigh, tucked beneath a buffalo robe. He remembered tinkling up the road to Christmas services and the magical anticipation he felt; the sense of complete safety and security. As we all begin the great migration “home for the holiday” I am thinking of my own dear ones who start for home from college tomorrow. Their ride will not be as magical, but I pray it will be as safe. For them and for all of is salt for the journey....the message of the sleigh ride:

"Just hear those sleigh bells
Ringing and jing ting tingaling too;
Come on its lovely weather for
A sleigh ride together with you.

Outside the Snow is falling and
friends are calling yoo hoo;
Come on its lovely weather for
A sleigh ride together with you.

Giddy Up, Giddy Up,
Giddy Up, Let's Go!
Just look at the show,
Were riding in a wonderland of snow.

Giddy Up, Giddy Up, Giddy Up
Its Grand, just holdin' your hand
Were riding along with the song
Of a wintery wonder land.

Our cheeks are nice and rosy and
Comfy cozy are we,
Were snuggled
Upp together like birds of
A feather would be.
Just hear those sleigh bells
ringing and jing ting tingaling too
Come on its lovely weather for
A sleigh ride together with you.
Come on its lovely weather for
A sleigh ride together with you."
-  Christmas Carol, Sleigh Bells Ringing

©2008 Jan Johnson wondra

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