The Joy Singers

By Kim Seeley

For many years, Christmas Eve services at our church were a mainstay in my family’s holiday tradition. My husband and his family had attended since his childhood, and we kept the tradition alive once we married and had children of our own. The services were always held promptly at 5 pm and normally lasted no more than thirty to forty-five minutes, so that members could still have family time afterwards. The service always consisted of music from the Joy Singers and the traditional Christmas pageant with the manger, shepherds, wise men and angels, all worked into some type of narrated story.

The music rehearsals for the Joy Singers began in September, and all children in our small community from grades three through seven were welcome to attend. The Joy Singers also performed at various community functions throughout the year, and they attended music camp at Blackstone, Virginia, each summer. Mrs. Nan Seeley was the founder and driving force behind the Joy Singers, and the children and the church’s musical programs thrived under her direction.

Both of my children were privileged to belong to the Joy Singers, but not at the same time. Since there were five years between my girls, one grew too old before the second one joined. I didn’t mind, because it gave me ten full years of helping in various roles. For many of those years, I was the Christmas pageant director, which encompassed the synchronization of the music to the procession of the Nativity characters and the narration. That sounds much easier than it was.

Rehearsals for the Joy Singers were combined with the cast of the Nativity story for the final weeks in December, and that was when things really became interesting. Perhaps only two wise men showed up, but no shepherds. The next rehearsal, all the shepherds and wise men were there, but Joseph was home with a cold. No rehearsal was ever perfect – not even close.

But somehow, at 5 o’clock on Christmas Eve each year, the organist would chime the hour, and the Joy Singers would file into the darkened church with their candles before them, singing “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful.” Each boy and girl appeared in their gleaming golden robes with burgundy stoles, scrubbed and polished so that their skin shone. The congregation joined in with the second verse, “Sing, choir of angels, sing in exultation,” and the Joy Singers mounted to their places in the choir stall.

The narrator would begin the story, and the Joy Singers would sit until the next song. The music varied from year to year, but I still find myself humming, “Little Donkey, Trotting Merrily,” along with “Run, Shepherd Boy,” at various times during the Christmas season. The characters of Mary and Joseph would wind their way down the aisles and take their places by the wooden manger. A child holding a giant star would come and stand behind them. Shepherds and wise men took their places, more or less as they had been instructed.

When it was time for the angels, all the babies and toddlers of the congregation and their families were brought out in their white robes, silver wings and silver halos. Then the angels joined the Joy Singers in “Away in a Manger.” It didn’t matter if a baby fussed, or some toddler dropped her pacifier, the angel scene was always perfect. Every Christmas Eve service always concluded with the lighting of the candles, and each member of the congregation carried his light out into the world.

Each Christmas Eve was special, and each year, at some point in the service, I would come to the certainty that now Christmas had begun. It didn’t begin on Christmas morning when Santa brought gifts; our family’s Christmas always started at 5 pm on Christmas Eve. One year, my younger daughter, Amanda, sang a solo that began like this; “Christmas isn’t Christmas ‘til it happens in your heart. Somewhere deep inside you is where Christmas really starts.” I can still see and hear her in my mind’s eye, all of eight or nine years old, singing confidently and clearly into the microphone, her beautiful brown hair shining in the candlelight and her sweet voice true to every note.

Christmas Eve services became difficult for my family when Amanda died at the age of nineteen. She had been a participant of every single Christmas Eve service since her birth, as had my older daughter, Melissa. Many of our normal traditions became difficult, and our family has sought out new traditions to take their place. For several years, we did not attend church at all on Christmas Eve, but we all felt its absence keenly.

We attend a different church now, and this church has its own traditions. There are no Joy Singers in golden robes, but the children still reenact the Nativity story. Our new church is filled with the Christmas spirit, and the service begins still at 5 pm each Christmas Eve. And as the organist plays, “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” the joy singers that are the children and adults of this new congregation lift their voices in song. And I – I feel that Christmas once again is happening in my heart.

About this writer

  • Kim Seeley Kim Seeley, a former librarian and English teacher, lives with her husband, Wayne, in Wakefield, Virginia. She is a frequent contributor to Sasee and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her most recent story, “Amanda’s Jonquils,” can be found in Chicken Soup: Messages from Heaven. She loves to read, play the piano, travel and spend time with her grandson, Evan.

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