Christmas open house hosts miracle of heartfelt unity

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, December 14, 2005

It was a beautiful ending to an especially beautiful early-December pre-Christmas Saturday, but the best was yet to be.

The thin blanket of snow seemed to enjoy the day's sunshine and the refreshing temperatures just slightly above freezing. Townsfolk were busy draping their outdoor lights across railings and in the pines and poplars on their lawns. The background music in all my favourite coffee shops evoked treasured moments from my childhood.

The air was filled with memories of what must be the happiest time of year for many of us.

After supper, my wife Mary Anna and I got into our 4×4, picked up a friend, and headed northwest into the foothills forest. We were responding to an invitation to a Christmas open house.

We didn't realize we were about to experience one of those miracles possible only at this time of year.

Our 40-minute drive took us past other rural parties already in full swing. Beaupre Community Hall was all aglow, and ranch houses along the way sparkled with window-framed trees and ornaments.

The deer must have been having their own festive gathering somewhere in the bush, because none of them greeted us with pairs of reflective eyes. (Maybe they were at a farewell bash for Santa's reindeer in anticipation of their annual rooftop jaunt?)

When we arrived at our destination high above the Ghost River, a dozen other cars were already lined up along the driveway, with many more soon to follow. Celebrative voices poured forth from inside the high-pitched-roof home, and soon our own joined in.

My first reaction upon entering the kitchen was that our hosts had strategized their open house to replenish their wine cellar for another year. On their island was a vast global community of the vintner's arts – from Australia, New Zealand, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, and of course, California, Ontario and British Columbia – all hospitality gifts from their grateful visitors.

The dining room table and serving counter were another story: shrimp rings and dip, tacos and dip, veggie platters, homemade fruity breads, crackers, blocks of cheese, and that to-die-for delicacy, hot brie and cranberries.

The 12-foot-high cathedral ceiling of the fireside room was well-suited to the lushly decorated nine-foot pine erected by our hosts' bed-and-breakfast guests.

Guests? The evening was like a grand reunion of neighbours who make their home in that part of the forestry – from Waiparous, Benchlands, and nearby ranches and retreat centres.

Yes, the evening was first and foremost a people time, and the warmth of the gathering was rivaled only by the crackling fire. What a treat it was to connect with so many of our coffee companions!

The special treat for me, however, came later that evening when sheets of Christmas carols and holiday songs were distributed, and for over an hour we sang our hearts out.

But though half of the selections we could have sung included pieces like "Jingle Bells," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and "Home for the Holidays," these were not the ones that were requested.

Rather, it was the more classic carols that folks wanted to sing: "O Come, All Ye Faithful," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and "O Holy Night" – songs whose timeless words celebrate the deeply religious significance of this time of year.

Actually, this quite delighted and surprised me.

We were anything but a church gathering. For all I knew, many of the 60 or so guests might well have had no particular religious affiliation whatever. And although quite a few came from assorted Christian denominations, there were also those of Baha'i, nature-based spirituality, and other religions.

What really blew me away, however, was our song leader. She seemed to know all of these most Christian of Christmas songs by heart – and she was Jewish, a descendant of a family who lost so many in the Holocaust!

And yet, in keeping with this glorious Yuletide season, she and all the rest of us sang together with one heart and one voice:

"Joy to the world! the Lord is come; Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, And heaven and nature sing, And heaven and nature sing. . . ."

And in our fractured world tormented by grief and woe, that's the miracle I experienced that evening, made possible only because of the uniquely unifying sacredness and traditions of Christmas.


© 2005 Warren Harbeck

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