(Continuing the series, “Swami Kriyananda on Art & the Artist.”)
Master had a unique way of celebrating Christmas. In 1971, Swamiji felt it was time to start a similar tradition at Ananda. Spiritual Christmas would be an eight-hour meditation on December 23; Christmas Eve, a party with lots of caroling; Christmas Day, another meditation, mostly listening to Handel’s Messiah; then opening presents, and a banquet of Indian food.
Master would always speak at the Christmas banquet, so Swamiji did, too. Over the years, Swamiji’s Christmas talk became like the president’s State of the Union address to Congress. In our case, though, the union being addressed was soul union with God.
Having grown up Jewish, this was not only my first Ananda Christmas, it was my first Christmas ever. Most vividly, I remember the music on Christmas Eve. We gathered in what we called the Common Dome—the dining hall and meeting room of the Retreat. It was about thirty feet in diameter, with a heating stove in the corner, and propane lights. There were thirty or forty people there. It was snowing heavily, and most of the Farm residents stayed home with their children. Nothing of the outside world touched us; we could have been on Mars.
A woman in the community, Kalyani, played the piano and sang beautifully. We had harmoniums to accompany chanting, usually playing with one hand and pumping the bellows with the other. This time, however, the harmonium was on a stand with foot pedals, so Kalyani could use both hands to play. Swamiji stood next to her; everyone else crowded around.
Choosing only the most spiritual carols or classical songs, they sang duets and solos, and led us in singing together. Some of the music I’d heard before, but never like this. Songs to God, and about God, sung by those who loved Him. The first line of one carol described it perfectly: “Angels we have heard on high…”
Swamiji said that when we achieve final liberation we look back at all our incarnations, which seemed so real at the time, and see it was all a dream. The only enduring reality are those moments when we were touched by God. When my liberation comes, singing carols my first Christmas at Ananda will be one such moment.
(Swami Kriyananda: Lightbearer, 1970, p. 31)