O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud?
Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem.
Filiae Ierusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.
O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before was any like thee, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? That which ye behold is a divine mystery.
So, what are you expecting for Christmas? Toys are probably too “young” for many of my readers. Some will have kids of their own and will be handing out toys, but some will be childless or alone. Some will be with family or friends, and some will be alone. I was alone last Christmas for much of the day after Church and it seems as though I will be alone the same this year, but all day instead. For the parts I was not alone, I was at a rather dysfunctional gathering that had nothing really to do with the holiday except it was so scheduled.
But it was Christmas day nonetheless and it will be so this year as well.
A coworkers laments that he hasn’t yet caught the Christmas spirit. My first thought was, uncharitably, “of course not, you don’t go to Church”. But seriously folks: what is this “Christmas Spirit” of which you speak? I think I know. On the wonderful “Mannheim Steamroller” Christmas album, the last track is Silent Night. Right at the end, the fully produced instrumental recording morphs into a toy piano playing a one-key at a time, “Tink, tink-tink, tink. Tink, tink-tink, tink.” There is a sound like a wind outside and carried on the wind – just as the child stops on the piano, one can hear the sound of sleigh-bells off in the distance. If one has imaged the child tinking out the note on the piano, one can see the child stop and get a look of wonder on her face as she hears the sleigh-bells. That used to (heck, still does) make me mist up. It’s so sentimentally Christmas.
I get the same feeling watching George Bailey run through town calling “Merry Christmas” to all the things, and at the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas as “the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day”. It also happens in Miracle on 34th St watching the Macy’s Parade and, for that matter, it happens when ever I see the finale of the Macy’s Parade.
That sentimental schmaltz is, I want to suggest, the Christmas spirit most people are talking about: a combination of hopeful memories and dashed hopes built around what could have been and what should be the content of MY HOLIDAY DAMN IT I WANT IT NOW.
And it’s why most of us end the holidays feeling slightly disappointed and betrayed. What I don’t understand is why we keep doing it. And what you are probably wondering is what it might have to do with the Latin verse at the top of the page.
The daughters of Jerusalem sing O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud? Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem. “O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before was any like thee, nor shall there be after.” They get all hung up on how awesome the Holy Virgin is and we do that do, a lot. Advent and Christmas are times for devotion to Mary to excel. Nothing wrong with that as long as we allow her – as she does in this verse – to say “Don’t look at me, look at my son.” Quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis, “Why marvel ye at me? That which ye behold is a divine mystery.” Rejecting what is even hers by right she says “Look at my Son: my only crown.”
We spend a lot of time looking for The Christmas Spirit but never looking for Christ. Either he’s old hat or else he reminds us of some bad stuff, or he’s just a fairytale we don’t want to bother with. But the rest of it is just schmaltz – a Yiddish word meaning chicken fat, and it has 115 calories per tablespoon and it’s about as healthy as the stuff we do to “Christmas” in the name of the “spirit”. So back to my original story line: how can you get the Christmas Spirit? By going to Christmas…
Or you can settle for schmaltz.
No Christ, no Christmas.
That’s how it is.