Back when the beloved husband and I were dating we introduced each other to our family customs and traditions. For the beloved husband it was beer drinking, baseball and being outside whenever the weather allowed. For me it was different things – shopping, family reunions and feelings talk.
There was one area where we were entirely in agreement and that is music. We both love lots of different types. He is kind when I break into song, off-key with the wrong words. Now that is love. Really! It’s not good.
I thought he would really like my Christmas tradition — Christmas Eve mass.
In our cathedral, midnight mass was a huge deal. The wonderful choir sang at 11 p.m. with the formal mass starting at midnight. Since it was a high mass celebrated by the bishop, it was full of pageantry. That’s what made it so wonderful — incense all over the place and costumes galore.
It would fill up to standing room only so to get a good seat or any seat you had to get there by 10:30 p.m. You can do the math – arrival at 10:30, choir at 11, an hour-long high mass at midnight, it took close to 3 hours. The choir was wonderful but the best part was when they sang the Hallelujah chorus at the very end of the mass. That ensured no one left early. There wouldn’t be a dry eye in the place and everyone was in the holiday spirit
groping hugging strangers on their way out of the church.
The beloved husband, who at that time was Mr. Wonderful, appeared (?) to be excited about it. We got there at 10:30 only to be smooshed in a hard wood pew with tons of other people and all kinds of smells. Some people ate garlic before mass. Some drowned themselves in perfume. Others may have showered but wore a coat that hadn’t been cleaned in ten years. Aside from the Campbell’s soup smell coming from the armpits, I could see the spirit of meals long past dribbled all over.
The choir delivered. They were just wonderful. However, we had been there an hour and a half before the mass itself started.
The bishop’s procession started down the aisle. He had a dozen altar boys with candles in front followed by six priests carrying incense burners. You can imagine the smell. Incense mixed with Estee Lauder’s Beautiful, Campbell’s soup, garlic and Old Spice. Yum! It was hot and sweaty so throw that in too.
From where we sat it looked awesome (my opinion) with all these folks in costumes strolling down the aisle. From Mr. Wonderful’s perspective it looked like a Roman orgy about to begin. It was only missing the gladiators and the lions.
I murmured positive comments hoping that he could hold on until the Hallelujah chorus. I started to sweat. I don’t think this is what he signed up for. If only he could hold out. I just knew he would LOVE the Hallelujah Chorus!
Alas! It was too much. In an overcrowded cathedral in a very loud voice, he, who was raised in the Quaker religion, asked me if Messala was going to follow in his chariot to challenge Ben Hur. There was snickering all around us. Fortunately, neither of us were struck dead or thrown out.
Since I was raised with all that pageantry, I found it comforting and familiar and wonderful. Did I mention it was a Latin mass? For someone raised with severe simplicity, perhaps not so much. He was a great sport and lasted until the end of the Hallelujah Chorus. Then asked if we could not do that again.
Our new custom is to watch the 1954 movie “White Christmas.” It’s not quite the same but add some wine and it works.
PS: I get choked up every time I hear the Hallelujah Chorus. It must be connected to some old, deep memories that I don’t fully understand. Here is a wonderful version sung by a flash mob in Canada in 2010. It reduces me to big heaping sobs every time I listen.