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Music

'Leise rieselt der Schnee' (The Snow Falls Softly)

For journalist Suzanne Cords, Christmas is at its prettiest when the world outside is covered in white. Even as a kid, her favorite Christmas songs were those in which snow plays a key part.

I grew up in the mountains, where it would usually snow long before Christmas Eve. The snow made the entire village seem peaceful, like it had been dunked in cotton. I always loved the mood then. On those long winter evenings, my grandmother taught me the song "Leise rieselt der Schnee" (The Snow Falls Softly). In translation, the German lyrics would read: "The lake rests quiet and still / The forest shines with the light of Christmas / The Christchild is coming tonight!"

I interpreted it literally, sitting and waiting for hours at the window in the hopes of seeing the arrival of the "Christchild" - a figure traditionally held to deliver Christmas gifts in Germany, like Father Christmas or Santa Claus does in North America. One time, my brother dressed up as an angel and went traipsing through the meadow in front of our house. I almost lost it, mistaking him for the Christkind who had just arrived to pick up my Christmas wish list.

These days, I don't really believe in angels, but I still love to sing that song - although preferably off in a quiet little room somewhere. Neither my parents nor we kids could sing very well. When we sang carols on Christmas Eve, our dog would howl along in harmony with us.

As an adult, I researched more about my favorite carol. It was written by preacher Eduard Ebel in the 19th century - his effort at capturing the wintery and celebratory mood of Advent, a word deriving from Latin that means "arrival." For centuries, Christians have spent the four weeks ahead of the festival of Jesus' birth making special preparations and honoring the season. In 1850, Hamburg resident and missionary Johann Hinrich Wichern came up with the idea of an Advent wreath, which he used to decorate the prayer room of an institution he founded. Each Sunday, a candle is placed on the wreath and lit to signify the wait for Christmas Eve.

I think it's wonderful that such traditions are carried on in our fast-paced day and age. And when there's snow on Christmas - despite climate change, then I can almost believe that the Christchild hasn't forgotten me and has come around to deliver my wish: the sight of softly falling snow.