Grace Notes: Thu Dec 21, 2023 – Rev. Kimberley Debus

As I write this on Thursday morning, I find myself singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas” – thanks in part to a Facebook post extolling the virtues of the version by John Denver and the Muppets.

But the version I am singing does betray my age, because it is the version by SCTV characters Bob and Doug McKenzie, which came out in 1981. I am singing this parody version not because it is catchy (which it is), but because those two versions are at the center of one of my favorite holiday memories.

I grew up in a smallish family but in a big farmhouse on the northernmost mountain of the Taconics, Taborton Mountain in southern Rensselaer County. My parents were generous with their hospitality, and each year, relatives would come to stay. Often, that just meant my father’s aging aunts, but in 1981, it also included my father’s sister and her family, all staying at the house. And while the house was big, it didn’t have that many bedrooms, so my sister and I were relegated to my mother’s sewing room, with tables pushed aside and two cots added.

Now you’d think that after a few days of getting everything ready for Christmas morning would mean we’d fall into exhausted sleep. But no. In the dark, on the cots, the house quiet, my sister (age 32) softly starts singing “on the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me… a beer” and I (age 17) start giggling. We start singing it to each other, getting louder and louder, so by the time we get to “seven packs of smokes” my mother is outside the door telling us to be quiet in that tone only exhausted and exasperated mothers can offer.

We giggle, and quietly keep singing it, but not that quietly, and our giggles at “and a beer… in a tree” leads Mom to harshly whisper “quiet! And if you’re going to sing it, sing it right.”

Which meant we starting singing the Muppets version… which meant I had to do my impression of Miss Piggy singing “five go-oooo-old riiiiiiiings” of course more loudly than 2:00am warranted.

My sister and I clamped our hands over our mouths because we were laughing so hard, and in the muffled silence we heard footsteps.

Yep, we were in trouble.

Except what we heard was my aunt and uncle, and Mom, and one of my great aunts outside our door, singing “four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves…” and they threw the door open, and we all sang, in loud stage whispers, “AND A PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE!!!”

We all laughed, said goodnight, and as Mom pulled the door shut, she said “now go to sleep or you won’t get any presents.” It took another half hour for us to stop giggling and go to sleep.

My memory of that evening is so strong, and it’s one of my favorite holiday memories.

May the coming days be filled with good memories, and with making new memories of the love and joy of this holiday season.

Blessings to all,
Rev. Kimberley