MLK Day 2021

Martin Luther King Jr. Day feels different in 2021. Following a tumultuous year and coming just two days before the inauguration of a new administration, this year’s MLK Day reminds us that freedom is never guaranteed and must always be defended.

Events of the past year have forced us to confront our nation’s complicated racial record, which has been filled with both great and sordid things. It seems that every step toward freedom has been followed by a setback.

  • The Founders created the freest society in history, with a durable system of governance; but to make it happen, they permitted the institution of slavery to be written into its Constitution.
  • A civil war split the nation, primarily over the issue of slavery. The nation abolished slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment, guaranteed equal protection under the law to all races in the Fourteenth and suffrage to all races with the Fifteenth. Then that same nation permitted those rights to be denied during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era.
  • In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education desegregated the nation’s public schools, only to give rise to segregation academies, which continue to be enabled by today’s voucher programs and charter schools.
  • A series of legislation including the Fair Housing Act of 1968 desegregated housing, and white flight re-segregated communities.
  • In 2008 voters elected our first African-American President. Eight years later they elected a blatant white supremacist who did his best to reverse the policies of his predecessor. And then in November the largest popular vote turnout in American history elected a ticket which included the first black woman Vice President.

In two days, we will witness an unusual Presidential inauguration, celebrating the peaceful transfer of power in a city locked down following the first armed occupation of the Capitol building in over two centuries. State capitals across the country will resemble occupied cities.

Our nation’s seal proclaims e pluribus unum: from many, one. The testing of that ideal doesn’t mean it should be abandoned. One of our greatest challenges as a nation is to permit our diversity to be a source of strength and not division. We need to find our way to each other.

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, let us all pray for our country and commit ourselves to work for a future of justice, equality, and peace.

Looking back on the Twelve Days

What an interesting project this has been! The responses have been fantastic. Shockingly, many people have told me that they’ve participated on every song. That takes a special kind of dedication, so at the risk of overstaying my welcome I am emboldened to share some impressions. (Links to all twelve pages appear at the end of this post.)

I was fortunate to have great music teachers. I followed my sister Judy in taking organ lessons from the late Jack Framke, shown with me on the left during a 2010 visit to Arizona. I followed my brother Tom in joining the St. Patrick HS Chorus, directed by Brother Konrad Diebold, FSC. That’s BK on the right at his retirement party in 2013. (Between us is my classmate Rich Ruh: we doubled to two proms.) The influences of Jack and Brother Konrad continue today.

You don’t do a project like this without learning something. Living with the consequences of your decisions is always instructive, so much of that learning started with decisions.

The first decision was to make this not a concert but a singalong.1 That meant that the songs would have to be both familiar and singable.2 I’m delighted that so many people have told me that they actually did sing along.3

The second decision was the Twelve Days of Christmas organizing scheme.4 Turns out there are two ways to count the days: one that starts on the day after Christmas and includes Epiphany, and one that starts on Christmas and goes to Epiphany Eve. I used the second one.5 A lot of the listeners have indicated that they enjoyed the opportunity to sing Christmas songs after they weren’t being played anywhere else.

The third decision was to mix sacred and secular songs: people seem to have been all right with that. I was shocked to discover how many secular Christmas songs are actually getting-ready-for-Christmas songs, and didn’t fit within the Twelve Days format.6

But the main learning from this project was that I have so many friends who were willing to share this Christmas in this special way. This has been a difficult year, and we’ve learned, I think, that we need to feel that we’re together. Singing these songs in different places on individual schedules may have helped with that. I hope that you enjoyed this little experiment, and like the Muppets and that wonderful song about the figgy pudding, I wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Following are the pages for the twelve days. You can use this list to sing along with the whole list of songs. (If that doesn’t get it out of your system, nothing will.)


  1. I’m neither a concert pianist nor a vocal soloist.
  2. To come up with the twelve songs, I started with a list several times that. I practiced some for weeks only to discard them at the last minute.
  3. Probably because that way they could drown me out.
  4. Actually, I had to look up the concept since it’s really more British than American.
  5. Fun fact: originally I envisioned an “Advent Calendar” scheme, but that would have involved 26 days this year, and I just wasn’t up for that.
  6. Examples: The Christmas Song. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. White Christmas. Silver Bells. We Need a Little Christmas. Merry Christmas, Darling. I’ll Be Home for Christmas.

Sing Along on the Twelfth Day of Christmas

And finally . . .

We have arrived at the Twelfth Day: January 5, the traditional Epiphany Eve.1 “The First Nowell” seems to be the perfect choice to close our this activity.

Illustration from Bramley and Stainer, Christmas Carols New and Old, London, 1871. Obviously they focused their illustration on the first two verses.

We associate this carol with Christmas, but if you go through the whole thing you’ll see that it takes us to Epiphany, hence my scheduling it today. 2 That becomes especially clear if we sing (as we will) All! Six! Verses!

“Nowell” (of the many spellings) means Christmas, so the “first Nowell the angels did say” was their first announcement. Other hymns talk about about “singing Nowell”; same idea.

And now, let’s close out the Twelve Days by singing Nowell ourselves:

The first Nowell the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter's night that was so deep.

     Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,
     Born is the King of Israel.

They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the east beyond them far:
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night.


And by the light of that same star,
Three Wise Men came from country far;
To seek for a King was their intent,
And to follow the star wherever it went.


This star drew nigh to the north-west;
O'er Bethlehem it took its rest;
And there it did both stop and stay
Right over the place where Jesus lay.


Then entered in those Wise Men three,
Full reverently upon their knee,3
And offered there in His presence
Their gold and myrrh and frankincense.


Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heav'nly Lord
That hath made heav'n and earth of nought,
And with His blood mankind hath bought.


Look for a final blog post providing links to the pages of all twelve days. But today I’ll close by simply wishing Nowell blessings to you and yours!

Click here for the recording.

Not sure what this is about? Click here!

Join us at on each of the Twelve Days of Christmas to join in this virtual sing-along. Care to be a serial singer? Here you go:


  1. The Roman Catholic Mass for Epiphany was celebrated this past Sunday.
  2. Any connection between this hymn choice and the name of our much-loved daughter Noël is purely intentional.
  3. Not to be impertinent, but evidently they share a knee. Odd.