Thursday, December 1, 2011
Silent Night, Holy Night
Stille Nacht by Mannheim Steamroller
It's the first of December and it's time to put our hearts in the right place for this season of peace and giving. The holiday season means different things to different people. Being a Christian, I celebrate the birth of my Savior, Jesus Christ. As a child I loved singing Away In A Manger throughout the holiday season and would picture what I thought it must have been like in that stable where He was born. I have had different favorite Christmas songs over the years but, when I heard Mannheim Steamroller's Stille Nacht, I knew there would never be another song that would touch my heart so deeply as this one does. In the 5:29 minutes it takes to listen to this song I am transported through a myriad of emotions. I marvel that a human heart has the capacity to feel as much joy, love, gratitude, hope, mercy, and peace as I feel during this song. It's as if the violin literally plays my heartstrings. My mind swirls through the sky between a stable in Bethlehem, a sleigh on a back road in rural Pennsylvania, mountains packed deep with snow and a dazzling moon above, to my own warm living room where I sit by the fire, sip my hot chocolate, close my eyes, and let the full mantle of the Holy Spirit fill my soul.
One of my favorite childhood Christmas memories is of being bundled into a sleigh between my mom and aunts and cousins, scratchy woolen blankets being piled on top and around us and my grandpa firing up the tractor and starting us out on our magical winter adventure through the Allegheny National Forest, where we were blessed to live. The crisp night air was fierce with the cloudless sky, our breath forming puffs all around. The women would chatter back and forth and I was about as happy as a girl could be just listening and reveling in the wonder of it all. Grandpa would take us down our street, over a creek, and then up this back road where, eventually, the forest gave way to a wide meadow. Everything was cast in a hue of blue - just like the pictures on those Christmas cards - with the deep snow sparkling and reflecting off the night sky. By and by, we would get around to singing Jingle Bells and other carols. The rides were never long enough, no matter how cold it got. I feel like this memory is indeed a gift from my Heavenly Father.
I had a yearly ritual that started when my children were little. When I spied the first snowflakes of the season out my window I'd try to rearrange my day so that I could make up a batch of cookies and a pot of hot chocolate - all to be waiting as they crashed through the door at the end of their school day. Once cookies were done and the cocoa was steaming, I poured myself a cup, took a seat by the lit fireplace and listened to Stille Nacht. Complete and utter peace is a rare commodity in a household of five children, especially this time of year. But, as the holiday season progressed and I felt the pressures mounting, I'd steal another dose of Stille Nacht, as needed. At times, I requested my children find a spot where they could be still for a minute, and gave them a dose as well!
Nine years ago we made an unexpected move to the Pacific northwest where we knew . . . . absolutely nobody! It was going to be a difficult move for our teens so I decided to buoy the troops and rally them for this great new adventure with which we were blessed! I'd shout out things like, "Full speed ahead!" and "What a blessing to be able to experience new surroundings!" Inside, I was crushed - and lonely - a shell. But I really wanted to help them find the upside of the move. I knew I'd get over it sooner or later- I'd moved many times in my life. But them - well, I worried.
Our first holiday season here I had taken my girls to the mall. The car was filled with their chatter and my Christmas music in the background. Suddenly we heard those first two notes followed by a CDG chord. They fell silent and the car began flooding with memories. The aching to be back in my home in Utah, surrounded by all my friends and family, was overwhelming. I couldn't hold back the tears and they streamed down my face. I tried to be quiet and keep my tears in the dark but the sniffles coming from the back seat told me I wasn't alone. We had all hit a wall. Pretty soon we were all sobbing. It was a time for reality - staring straight into the fact that those particular Christmases were gone. I guess you could say we mourned a bit that night. At that point we couldn't know how much we would grow to love our new community and life. For that night, we let Mannheim Steamroller fill us with treasured memories and a reminder of all Christmases - especially that very first one. And a reminder that the star that shone so bright back then still shines bright today - all year long. We are never alone.
I invite you to find a quiet moment, sip some hot chocolate, and listen to this song. Open your heart and let it work its magic and set your soul on fire with the spirit of giving.
I like to put a scoop of peppermint ice cream in mine. It makes me think of being a little kid and pressing my nose up against the window to look out at the snow, while being nice and toasty inside.
Printable Recipe Card
1 quart milk (your preference - I've made it with skim on up and it's all delicious!)
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 oz. milk chocolate chips
2 T. powdered sugar
pinch of salt
In a deep pot over medium heat, warm 2 cups of the milk, the chocolate chips, powdered sugar, and salt until the chocolate melts and steam starts to rise.
Stir in the remaining milk and heat just to a simmer - do not boil. Remove from heat.
Whisk until frothy OR, if you really want to knock it out of the park, use an immersion blender or regular blender and blend on low for a minute. This will completely dissolve any little chocolate bits and aerate the milk creating a beautifully thick and frothy hot chocolate.
Pour into a cup leaving about a half inch head space for the ice cream. Carefully pllace a scoop of peppermint ice cream or mint chocolate chip ice cream in. Crush a buttery peppermint candy and sprinkle over top and sip in the Christmas season!
Try adding a teaspoon of cinnamon with the chocolate chips and then shaking on some sugar and cinnamon over a dollop of whipped cream on top!
Add a pinch of cayenne pepper with the chocolate chips to give a beautiful spice heat to go along with the warmth.
Almond extract also gives a nice flavor - add about a teaspoon with the chocolate chips and top with whipped cream and toasted almonds.
Try a shot of coffee-flavored syrup for a mocha delight. Mmmmmm!