Monday, December 19, 2011

The Annual Christmas Post

It seems every year I have to make some kind of post about Christmas and this year will be no exception.

I'm finished with blogs full of outrage about the War on Christmas crap.  For one thing, there seems to be some kind of stalemate in the war this year.  I still see a vocal minority claiming outrage at the phrase "Happy Holidays".  I also see plenty of online requests that we all must keep Christ in Christmas or not celebrate at all.  Those voices just seem much quieter this year.

I like to think the louder voices have become the voices of reason.  If others can't be offended or feel excluded by Merry Christmas, then you have no right to be offended by Happy Holidays.  A winter holiday existed long before Jesus and you can't stop people from celebrating the season as they wish. 

It even seems that the push to shove Christmas down everyone's throats as soon as possible has been mitigated as well.  As I mentioned in another post, businesses are waiting to decorate.  Families are taking time to enjoy Thanksgiving first.  I am even noticing that there is very little Christmas music on the radio.  I suppose some may see this as a War on Christmas, but I see it as simply being reasonable.  Don't rush the holiday.  Let's just celebrate Christmas as it comes.

I digress though.  That's not really what I meant for this post to be about. Rather than talk about how we celebrate Christmas today, I wanted to share one of my nutty Christmas memories.

This post is about that venerable and beloved Christmas carol, Silent Night.

Silent Night was probably the first serious Christmas carol I ever learned as a child.  It is the first one I remember learning anyway.  It's a good song for children because it's short, simple and soothing.  (Who doesn't like the idea of their children singing about "sleeping in Heavenly peace"?)  Even though I didn't dislike the song, and sang it willingly in music class and church, I had a serious problem with it. I really had a problem with the lyrics.

What the heck was a roundyon virgin?

I understood all of the song except for that bit about the roundyon virgin.  What did roundyon mean?  Even though I didn't know what the word virgin meant, I still knew it was referring to the Virgin Mary.  I just assumed when I was really little that "Virgin" was some kind of honorary holy title (and I suppose in the Catholic Church, it is).  But what was roundyon?

I was really curious.  Was I hearing it wrong?  Was I just ignorant.  I was afraid to ask anyone because I knew I would end up laughed at or patronized.  (Ah the joys of having an older brother!) 

I grew older and more literate and saw the lyrics written out.  It wasn't roundyon virgin.  It was round yon virgin.  I wasn't hearing the words incorrectly, but I still didn't know what it meant.

I'm not sure just how faithful the standard English translation of Stille Nacht is to the original German, but I do know that you can't translate a song easily word-for-word without having to do some different - and possibly awkward - phrasing or clipping of the words.  Learning it as a very young child, I was just mimicking words and not really understanding how the sentences in the song were supposed to flow.

This is how I saw the song:

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright

This was the nativity weather report.

Round yon virgin mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild

This is just the acknowledgement of the players in the story.  They exist.  Hi!

Sleep in heavenly peace.

Good night. 

It would take a few years before I realized that music gives on license to write words incorrectly and make awkward sentences that would never pass muster in English class.  Sadly, no one pointed out  how I should have translated the song.

Silent night, holy night.  All is calm, all is bright around yonder virgin mother and child.
Holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace

I suppose if I had asked, someone would have likely explained it to me long before I figured it out for myself.  I would have had to have taken some ribbing and probably would have had to deal with people telling funny anecdotes about the roundyon virgin for the rest of my life.

Decades later I confess.  I suppose everyone can have at it now.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Danger Danger Danger!

I have an obsession with Harley Davidson motorcycles.  Kevin does too.  What can I say?  They're beautiful machines.  They represent fine automotive craftmanship and they're made in the USA.  There is an enormous tradition behind them.  Kevin and I have been known to go to dealerships to walk around admiring the bikes and even indulge in some of the related merchandise.

Do you know I have never ridden on a motorcycle and don't want to?  I'm really rather afraid to do so.

Do you also know that motorcyclists suffer an injury once every 7000 hours of riding and yet horseback riding has an injury rate of one serious accident once every 350 hours?  My choice of hobby is not terribly logical is it?

I suppose that it makes somewhat logical sense that I should be afraid of riding a motorcycle.  There is a story behind it .One day in high school I was driving home from school and cut across a side road.   There was a motorcycle lying on road and someone was covering a body with a blanket.  It's hard to get a picture like that out of your mind.
Even if my motorcycle fear isn't totally baseless, I do find it interesting that humans will perceive so many activities as dangerous while ignoring even worse dangers.
For example, a coworker of mine had just head about a horrific elevator accident in New York City where a woman was crushed to death after an elevator shot up quickly while she was boarding it. Coworker said she wanted to take the stairs for the rest of her life.  You never know when something as innocent as an elevator could end your life on a moment's notice.
"Or," I told her, "You could ride the elevator and arrive at the bottom floor safely, which is statistically likely, and then go home in your car and be killed in a crash, which is also statistically likely, and more statistically likely than dying in an elevator.
How many other situations do we perceive as dangerous, while we indulge daily in occupations that are far more dangerous?

Think of the dangers we are perpetually imagining for our children.  Parents fear that every adult in the world that they don't know is a threat.  Everywhere you go, strangers are out to kidnap and molest your children.  They are going to poison your children's Halloween candy just for the enjoyment of killing mass numbers of children in one night.  They are going to murder your children for fun. 

The most likely person to abduct a child is a non-custodial parent, but children have visits with their non-custodial parents every weekend.  The people most likely to molest a child are people they know well such as relatives and family friends, but holidays and celebrations with extended families and friends continue on.  The person most likely to kill or beat a child is its mother.  How many mothers sometimes feel the need to spend every waking moment with their children?

We pack up our kids in giant vehicles and drive them everywhere because we are afraid of the people on the street.  Yet the car is exactly the place where our children are most likely to be maimed or killed.  Statistically speaking, the suburban assault vehicle has the highest death rates for children, while the safest cars have proven to be mid-size to large import cars (and let me emphasize the word cars in that sentence).  How many adults have that "bigger is better" mentality?

Isn't it funny how we are always terrified of whatever bacterial infection du jour comes around (avian flu, swine flu, SARS, MRSA etc.) when our chances of getting them are really quite small?  We say we will do anything to avoid contracting a deadly disease, but we continue to sit on the couch, eat crappy food, refuse to wear sunscreen, smoke cigarettes, drink heavily, and do any number of health habits that are guaranteed to add up and kill us horribly.  We can't let our kids eat Halloween candy from "strangers" but we allow them to eat McDonalds, and pizza, and cupcakes to their hearts content.  It's too dangerous for kids to play outside, but they're somehow safe sitting on their butts playing video games all day?

If I said that I don't want to walk down my street anymore because there are several second and third level apartments on the street and I don't want to be hit by a falling piano, you would think I was nuts.  I argue that's what it seems like our society has come to.  Why do we fear unlikely freak accidents and rare diseases while we actively pursue a lifestyle that is guaranteed to kill us unpleasantly? We pass this lifestyle onto our children and send them into an adulthood filled with obesity and Type 2 Diabetes.  Just how much damage to we have to do to ourselves before we realize that we have been worrying about the wrong things?

Do yourself a favor.  Get some exercise today.  Eat breakfast.  Eat some food that came from a farm and not a factory.  Floss your teeth.  Go to bed a little earlier.  Go easy on the booze. Get rid of the ciggies.  There are no guarantees ever that you won't be hit with that falling piano, but it's amazing how much damage to yourself that you can control.