“Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright. Round yon Virgin Mother and Child, Holy Infant so tender and mild.” ~Joseph Mohr
Anyone who has ever sung Christmas carols knows about Round John Virgin.
He is the mystery dude who hangs out in the stable with Mary and baby Jesus in the hymn, Silent Night. Or at least that's what I thought as a child, and millions of other English-speaking children probably thought as well when they sang the lyrics to the song.
“Round John Virgin,” in its nonsensical way, made more sense to a child than “round yon Virgin.” Why wouldn't a fat man with a strange name be hanging around Mary and Jesus? Maybe he was Santa's brother.
It's so funny and endearing how children will totally accept the magic and mystery of Christmas, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Sometimes when I see ads with scantily-clad Hooter's girls in Santa hats, or the non-stop advertisements for an array of stuff we don't need, I wonder what these wide-eyed innocents are taking in as the real meaning of Christmas.
As a child, I was somehow able to separate what was truly magical and mysterious from the cheesy, over-the-top displays of commercialism and greed.
For a few weeks in December, life was transformed from the normal, everyday routine, to a strange and wonderful world where live trees appear in your living room decorated with shiny things, and a slightly scary man in a red suit flies around the world dropping toys down your chimney.
For those few weeks, magic was everywhere — in the twinkling lights, the appearance of wrapped gifts under the tree, the flow of yummy treats, and special outings in new clothes.
But mystery was definitely there too. Mysteriously, the world felt different, better and brighter, for those few weeks. People seemed more alive and loving. My parents got along; my siblings were nice to me. Everyone had a sense of hopeful anticipation.
There was talking and singing about peace, joy, love, holiness, and a bright shining star that led the way to a mysterious scene in a faraway land — a stable with a mother and a baby, a prince of peace.
Now we are adults, and much of that magic has evaporated. The truth about Round John Virgin and Santa Claus has been exposed.
We have strung enough lights to strip away the wonderment of their sparkle. We have wrapped the gifts, baked the cookies, and braved the malls to find the last American Girl Doll.
But if you step back from the shopping and the wrapping and the decorating, you will see that mystery is still all around us.
For me, that is what is real and exquisite about the Christmas season . . .
The mystery of the promise for peace, symbolized in the innocent hope and beauty of the infant born on a silent and holy night. The weary world rejoices.
The mystery of unconditional love, reflected in the eyes of the mother or father as they create Christmas magic for their own children. The wonders of their love.
The mystery of simple joys, experienced in the least-expected moments — sitting quietly by the fire, laughing and sharing with friends, talking about Christmases past. Joy to the world.
They mystery of nature's beauty in the stark bare tree limbs, the deep snowfalls, or the bright, cold days. A midnight clear, a holy night.
They mystery of self-reflection and renewal as we end one year and begin thinking and planning for the days to come, the year to come. Let every heart prepare room.
In less than a week, it will be over. Christmas will be done, and the bittersweet dismantling of the decorations and holiday accoutrement will begin. The magic will be boxed away until next year. But the mystery of Christmas can remain alive. We need never outgrow what is real and beautiful about this season.
These mysteries can remain part of our daily lives, every day of the year, simply by placing our attention on them. Perhaps that is what Round John Virgin was doing in the stable that night when he was visiting the Prince of Peace — sitting quietly, and acknowledging the glorious mystery of it all.
What is magical and mysterious about the Christmas season for you, either now or when you were a child? Please share your thoughts in the comments.