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.

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