By ED MADSEN
Compared with COVID and war in Ukraine, it may not seem like much, but as Christmas was approaching forty-nine years ago, things in the world were not going very well. Arab states waged war on Israel. Here in the US, while trying to fend off impeachment, our president precipitated the so-called Saturday Night Massacre. That was a string of Justice Department resignations, including the Attorney General, and the firing of the Watergate special prosecutor. Days later, a bribery scandal forced the Vice President to resign. Our republic was in peril!
Then came the Arab oil embargo. Soon we lined up for hours approaching gas pumps, restricted to cars with even numbered license plates one day, odd the next. Wall Street took notice. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost nearly half its value during the ensuing twelve months. Mortgage rates climbed to 8 percent on their way to 9 percent the following year. Our economy was on the ropes!
Aching for respite from the troubles of this world, we booked our family of four into the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT, home to the Sound of Music heroine. At age sixty-eight, Baroness Maria von Trapp was one of the ten most respected women in America. When her husband decided to flee privilege and leave everything behind in Austria, she said:
We have now the precious opportunity to find out for ourselves whether the words we have heard and read so often can be taken literally: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.”
Two months later, in September of 1938, Maria von Trapp and her family came to America on a tourist visa with bookings to perform as “The Trapp Family Singers.” Denied visa extension beyond six months, the family left America for a hastily arranged concert appearance in Copenhagen. In October of 1939, the SS Bergenfjord brought them back to America, this time as immigrants, later to be fingerprinted as enemy aliens! For two decades the family delighted audiences nationwide. They became American citizens while the older boys served with U.S. Army ski troops during World War II, after which the family spearheaded postwar Austrian Relief.
Our reservation at Maria’s home in 1973 culminated on December 24. In the afternoon we gathered with other guests to meet Maria in St. George’s Hall at one end of the Lodge. As late afternoon sun slipped behind the mountains, Maria held us spellbound while explaining Christmas traditions in Austria. She said Christmas carols were not sung until celebration of the Christ child on Christmas Eve. Darkness settled outside. Then Maria invited guests to sing one last Advent carol, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” as she led us through a long hallway to the hushed living room at the other end of the Lodge.
There, live candles adorned a freshly cut Christmas tree. Then, wishing us not a “Merry” but a “Blessed” Christmas, Maria led all in softly singing “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht.” First in German, then in English, “Silent Night, Holy Night.” There was not a dry eye in the house!
Bridget Lois Jensen