Ben Hur is coming!

This is one of my favorite Christmas stories of all times. It’s all true. There is no need to enhance anything. It happened many years ago.

Back when the beloved husband and I were dating we introduced each other to our 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 that we both loved — 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.

I thought he would enjoy my Christmas tradition — Christmas Eve mass with a fabulous choir.

In our cathedral, midnight mass was a huge deal. The 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 and costumes gave a very medieval feel.

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 was Mr. Wonderful and not yet the beloved husband) 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. 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 lit candles in front followed by six priests carrying incense burners. You can imagine the smell. Incense mixed with Estee Lauder’s perfume, 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. Way better than a Renaissance Fair.

From Mr. Wonderful’s perspective it looked like a Roman orgy about to begin. It was only missing the gladiators and the lions. The Christians were sitting in the pews.

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!

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, then silence.

Fortunately, neither of us were struck dead or thrown out.

Since I was raised with all that pageantry, I find 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.

55 thoughts on “Ben Hur is coming!

  1. I was reading this at 4:30 in the morning after a restless night and you managed to make me snort several times! You are funny! 😆😆😆

    I remember all of this – the tightly packed scrunching together on hard wooden benches, the smell (ugh, that Campbell’s soup smell! 😳), and the please-God-when-is-this-going-to-be-over feeling. Your husband is a keeper for enduring that and coming back 🙂

    Merry Christmas, Kate. Hope you have a wonderful holiday!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We’ll be going to a Lutheran version of a midnight mass. John and grandson David will sing in the choir, and I’ll have grandson Nathaniel to lean against. Since my brain shuts down after 6 pm, it’s a good thing I won’t have to drive. If I fall asleep, I hope they’ll take me home.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hahahaha, Beloved Husband’s commentary is brilliant. I’ve never seen High Church pageantry! Sounds amazing and, yeah, I still remember singing the Hallelujah Chorus in high school. It is very impressive.

    And now it’s an ear worm!

    Liked by 1 person

    • My childhood church was a regular church. When I lived in the city, the cathedral with the bishop presiding was the closest parish. I was bowled over the first year I attended. Yikes! The procession down the aisle was amazing by itself. Can’t beat the Hallelujah Chorus for impact.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. For years I’ve always wanted to attend a Catholic mass with full pageantry, including a bishop (no mere priest for me, please). Yours is precisely the kind I hope to attend someday, sans smells of course. Even the Latin sounds like fun, though I suppose after awhile it’s not much different than the endless Hebrew during a really long High Holiday service. Still, I hope to do it someday. Have a Merry Christmas, Kate! – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ah yes. We of the every Sunday Catholic mass goers know that Christmas Eve Midnight Mass (and Easter vigil as well to be honest) always brings out those people who have not stepped into church since the last year’s ceremony. I, too, loved the sights and smells but had issues with the church before my Mr. Wonderful came into the picture so he didn’t have to go through it. I have gone to mass on Christmas eve as a present to my mom but she goes to the earlier one at 4:30 so it is not quite as bad. Merry Christmas to you and your dear husband, Kate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Somehow it’s not the same. They have the midnight mass on TV. It’s one of those things that has more impact in person. At this point in time, staying up after midnight is a challenge so the time for it has passed and I enjoy other aspects of the season instead.


  6. You just described every Christmas Eve from the time I could remember until I left for college! I gagged with the incense until about 8th grade at which point I decided it was a lovely aroma. The only thing you left out was the fact that my Mom and Dad were in very merry humors after pre-midnight mass Manhattans. I loved the mass in Latin! White Christmas is our movie tradition now for Christmas Eve, too. Merry, Merry Kate!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I always loved Christmas Eve mass because of the pageantry. The people were so upbeat too. We would have a light breakfast (strudels or bagels) when we got home and go to bed but we only slept in until 8 or 9. Too much excitement.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Lol. My partner said something similar, except that he was waiting for the augur (priest) to whip out a ceremonial knife and read some sheep’s entrails. Of course, he has equally snarky comments about an Evangelical church – and said he’d take a ceremony that didn’t involve an explicit mention of burning in Hell over his background any day. We’re both not religious, though, so we similarly have our own alternative tradition (travel) instead.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Our tradition is lots of pet sitting and then collapsing so we can get up at at 6 am and start pet sitting all over again!! I love my job, but am looking forward to not doing Christmas anymore when we retire.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Seems like a fair trade-off. BIng Crosby and Rosemary Clooney vs a cathedral choir. The Hallelujah chorus vs Roman citizens screaming for blood! Sitting at home vs a cathedral with stained glass windows and vaulted ceilings. How could anybody in either situation not become equally absorbed in this teaser so close to Christmas Day?

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I shouldn’t have laughed, but I did. Your poor Mr.Wonderful! The first midnight mass I took my husband to was a different experience. We were in Alabama. We went inside, the light somehow changed in the sanctuary, I swear. It was just different after awhile. We found out why later. It had snowed when we were inside. We came outside after mass with everyone going, “Ooooo, look at that!” It was beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

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