Tia Lynn Ivey

My most cherished Christmas tradition is, quite simply, singing—singing along to the sacred songs and hymns that have been sung by countless people across cultures and centuries.

Whether singing in unison with loved ones or strangers, the knowledge that we utter the same words our mothers, fathers, grandparents, and generations past have sung at Christmastime, reignites the all-too-often extinguished sparks of human unity.

Since I was little, singing these songs—that seem to house all the beauty and brokenness of this world—felt like a cosmic reprieve from all the nonsense that divides the human race, allowing a brief moment of grace for all who would dare to hope that there really could be, one day, peace on earth and goodwill to all people.

Now, I’m grown with children of my own, and singing, especially at Christmastime, has taken on another profound level of significance in our family. My middle child, Kellan Avery, is five years old and has autism. He is on the non-verbal spectrum, only using language infrequently and in short spurts.

But music is in his soul, spilling out of him through drums, piano, and even vocally through song. This year, as we strung the lights and decorated the tree, I knew my quiet little lad would not sit on Santa’s lap to excitedly whisper in his ear a lengthy wishlist for Christmas morning.

I knew he would not understand leaving freshly baked cookies and warm milk out for good ole’ Saint Nick to snack on or follow along as our family watches “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” and “Home Alone.”

These, too, are traditions I cherished growing up and looked forward to sharing with my children—all my children. When you are given the gift—and yes, it is a sacred gift—of a child with autism, you achingly let go of certain expectations and aspirations.

But in their absence, new and unforeseen traditions are born, and some old ones are given new life. That’s what happened this holiday season, when Christmas music became another pathway of communication between me and my son.

As our home was filled with the sounds of “O Holy Night,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and other classics, it wasn’t long before Kellan started humming along, drumming in time, and repeating the lyrics. His mousey voice with poor pronunciation wailing with bouncy, unrestrained joy to the songs I’ve carried with me all of my life.

For our family, it’s our own Christmas miracle to watch the power of music unlock our son’s hidden voice in new and expanding ways. He can’t carry on a conversation like other boys his age, but he tells his own magnificent story for those willing to listen.

I am learning to listen. I am learning to reach him in ways he understands. And this Christmas morning, I will sing the songs my ancestors sang, with a mousy voice beside me echoing along, as we hope for peace on earth and rest with peace in our hearts.

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