The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Christmas solo

"Just in time for Christmas," my 10-year-old, Jenna, yells as we climb into the car to leave for her brother Ian's Christmas program. The first snowfall of winter came last night, but now our car won't start. So we trudge through the snowbanks on our short walk to church. Jenna holds Ian's hand in a tight grip, but he still falls into a dirty snowbank.

Inside the church, parents and children buzz around, a hive of snowsuits, scarves, hats and mittens. Ian's snowsuit is wet inside and out. He's almost five but still not toilet trained. In my backpack I find clothes stuck there a year ago for emergencies. He squeezes into pants and a T-shirt he's outgrown. I put his robe over his head quickly so he doesn't feel closed in and to hide his tight clothes.

Ian is in the Cherub Choir, but he doesn't look angelic even in a white robe with a tinsel halo tied around his head.

His special education preschool teacher advised us to get him into regular activities so he can learn from other children. The choir director is patient and didn't try to make him sing at rehearsals. Ian doesn't sing at preschool either. The other kids bellow, but Ian just sits. Then every night when I read in bed and his sister is asleep, Ian starts to sing to himself. He sings all the words to his preschool songs even though he can only speak a few words. I drift off every night hearing "the wheels on the bus go round and round ...."

The Cherub Choir sings first. Just like in rehearsals, Ian sways and doesn't sing. By the end of "Joy to the World" his halo is drooping across his face. After the song is finished, he sits beside us. The lights dim and the guitar plays "Silent Night" while children place life-size nativity figures in front. Ian is learning animal sounds with his speech therapist, so I hope he doesn't bray, moo or baa.

Our pastor steps to the podium to pray. Ian fixes his eyes on him and points. "Oh no," whispers Jenna, already blushing. We know what's coming.

"Glas-ses," says Ian in a loud, robotic voice.

"OK, shhh," I whisper.

"Glas-ses," Ian repeats louder.

Pastor Waye continues his prayer louder: "As we enter this season of family times together, let us think about ...."

"Glas-ses," Ian beams.

People around us shift in their seats. They came to see their kids and hear the minister. Jenna cups her hand over Ian's mouth.

"Let us always remember that the reason for the season is ...."


There are some giggles now. The minister hurries to the end of the prayer, his words punctuated by shouts of "glasses." He doesn't pause between phrases the way he usually does to allow the congregation to reflect.

Finally, he puts his glasses in his coat pocket. But Ian commands the glasses to reappear. When the pastor says "Amen," the congregation repeats "Amen," grateful the prayer is over.

Without his glasses on, the pastor announces the wrong hymn. But everyone sings the Easter hymn with gusto, drowning out any random "glasses." The organ booms the final notes, and we all sit down. Ian climbs up on the pew and points to the plaster baby on the straw. Then in a loud clear voice, he sings the song he has always refused to sing with the others at preschool:

"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you ...." 


carole heider

carole heider

Posted at 5:43 pm (U.S. Eastern) 12/20/2011

As a music educator for many yearss, I can attest to the magic of music in special needs children's lives.  Happy Birthday to Baby Jesus, indeed.  Thank you, Ian.

Print subscribers and supporting Web members may comment.

Log in or Subscribe to comment.

text size:

this page: email | print

March issue

MARCH issue:

All are welcome