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“Christmas comes but once a year, but Easter is with us always.”

There is a saying among Christians: “Christmas comes but once a year, but Easter is with us always.” While I certainly do agree with the latter part of this saying, I have to say that I have never understood the former. Christmas, I think, is with us always as well. We know this, deep down, even if this truth seems too pure, too impossibly glorious, for us to think about and bear. 

One way in which we can learn to bear it is by singing Christmas carols at other times of the year. Offhand, this sounds like a strange thing to do, the sort of thing that gets one sent to Episcopal hell along with the people who, as some wag once put it, ate with the wrong forks. Precisely because Christmas is with us always, though, the gracious carols that are our inheritance as Christians can be drawn upon at any time of year. They are so very many and our need for God is so very great.

Recently I took a summer driving trip by myself during which I passed several accident scenes. One of them was particularly disturbing: a tractor-trailer had overturned and swept another car to the side of the highway. Traffic slowed. Emergency vehicles, their lights flashing, converged on the grass. I knew that I ought to pray, but how?

For some reason I started singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” It was hard going at first. My throat constricted and the tears began to flow. Gradually, they abated. Soon the traffic began to move. As it did, I found myself able to sing the whole carol to an empty car, in the glare of a pulsing July sun, all the way through to the end.

O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray,

Cast out our sin, and enter in; be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;

O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.

Christ is born in us today: that’s the life of prayer.

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Anna Bendiksen is a writer with a particular interest in the intersection of food and cultural identity. Educated at Bryn Mawr and Yale, she lives with her husband and son in Fairfield, Connecticut, where she is a member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. You can follow her on Twitter @anna_bendiksen.

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