*Does it count as tradition if it’s only 3 years old?
I discovered the Cathedral shortly after moving to Jersey City. I did some work in Newark and had a friend living there at the time, so I found myself driving between the two cities often, and the thing about this church is, it’s massive.
Like it’s almost impossible to get a good shot of it, so I’m sharing this aerial with you instead. The point is, you can see it from miles away, and I never knew exactly what it was, but I knew I wanted to see it up close. Turns out, that, in addition to many other events, the church hosts an annual carol sing that’s open to the public and entirely free (but you can make free will donations). I went with friends my first year, and it took my breath away, so I knew I’d be going back. Chris and I went last year, and then again last night.
This is a picture from at least 3 blocks away, and I still couldn’t capture the full structure. It’s amazing.
The doors to the concert open at 7, and the choir goes on at 8. We got there at 7:05 and still wound up sitting behind a pillar. At least we had seats, but maybe next year we should aim for 6:30? The performance only happens on two nights (last night and tonight), and it draws a huge crowd.
It’s definitely a Catholic church, but, in my opinion, you don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate it. While they definitely sing many religious carols, they also sing a lot of the classics like “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Really, I think you just have to love the Christmas season, because there’s no way you can go to this and not come out feeling like Father (Mother?) Christmas him(her?)self.
The performers are so amazingly talented that it literally brings me to tears. The way their beautiful voices fill the vaulted ceilings of this astounding structure is powerful and moving. I don’t cry at every song, but a beautifully sung Ave Maria in Latin is hard to keep a stiff upper lip for.
The best part though is that many of the songs encourage the attendees to join in! We are invited to rise and add our voices to classics like “Joy to the World” and “Gloria.”
Admittedly, I felt a little awkward my first year standing up and singing since I am as tone deaf as they come, but you really do feel inspired by everyone around you to get up and add your voice to the mix. Still, the songs sung only by the choir and accompanied by the chamber orchestra are breathtaking.
The whole thing ends with a candlelit rendition of Silent Night in the darkened church that is hauntingly beautiful.
I know all the flowery language feels as if I’m overselling the experience, but I don’t truly feel like it’s Christmas until after I’ve seen the Cathedral Basilica choir perform. We both left last night feeling uplifted and joyous and totally absorbed in the season.
On the way home, we listed to radio coverage of the 12/12/12 benefit concert, and Jon Stewart’s heartfelt tribute to the Jersey Shore brought me to tears again. It was a great night for music, and a great official start to the season for me.