Several years back I spent most of December in India visiting several cities. It was the 22nd of December when I was on a plane moving down the taxiway headed for home.
Just at the edge of my consciousness I became aware that the wonderful Christmas carol “Hark, the Herald Angles Sing” was playing on the intercom. It had been a year since I had heard Christmas music, and I had not been thinking about Christmas at all, since the normal decorations of the season are not generally found in most parts of India.
Suddenly, the feeling of heading for home, of family and Christmas, was very much on my mind, and I closed my eyes to listen to a song about angels and a newborn king.
There was an emotion that swept over me that is difficult to describe.
India is a country of interesting contrasts. It has 1.1 billion people, and about 80 percent of those are listed as of the Hindu religion. The country also has about 15 percent of the population who are of the Muslim faith. There are Christians in India, but they make up only about 3 percent of total population. St. Thomas, one of Jesus’ apostles, came to India to do missionary work in about 40 A.D. There are churches named for St. Thomas here and there around the southern tip of the country, and his tomb can be found in Chennai (the British called it Madras). John Cary, of early missionary fame, did most of his work in the Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) region. Mother Teresa was there as well, many years later.
During that trip a local friend and I were eating lunch in one of the hotels in the downtown area of Bombay. The music in the background obviously came from a 1950’s American tape. While we ate and visited we listened to several Elvis numbers, as well as Dean Martin and Doris Day. We both began to smile when we heard a pop version of “Amazing Grace” come over the intercom. The idea that in India, where the Hindu religion dominates the religious scene, we would be listening to a Christian standard as background “elevator” music in a hotel was a real surprise. I talked to the manager of the restaurant later and asked him about it. He said that he knew it was English music but had no idea where it came from or what the words were making reference to. He said his people seemed to like it. I thought, “And why not.” I told him it was vintage U.S.1950’s music. Actually, from this old-timer’s perspective, it is vintage anytime music.
A former music teacher once told me that music is the window to the soul. It can touch our hearts or rev us up to meet a new challenge. Among my favorite memories is hearing the band play the university’s “fight” song when a favorite college team runs on the field. At Clemson they play “Hold that Tiger.” At my alma mater, Missouri, it is “Fight Tigers, Fight for Old Mizzou.” We can hear a tune and thoughts flash through our mind. It can make us think of good times or significant others in our lives. It can sooth a heartache or give us a new resolve.
At Christmastime, whether it is “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” or “Hear Comes Santa Claus,” it speaks to us of home and family and memories that go back as far as our mind can take us. It gives us visions of grandparents, and parents, and brothers and sisters, some of them long gone but as clear as a crystal memory and as real as the emotion inside us when we think of the many Christmases past. May it always be so. “Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus,” and I can add without fear of contradiction that he and that babe from Bethlehem come alive in our hearts this time of the year every time we hear a Christmas carol.
Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. Contact him at email@example.com.