There is a song; a carol, actually; a Christmas carol, to be absolutely precise, called “Et Barn Er Født I Betlehem". I thought it was a uniquely Norwegian piece, but a quick search on iTunes revealed versions in several Nordic languages, including an attempt in English by one Garrison Keillor. So 'Scandinavian', I think, is as narrow a label as we can put on it.
Whatever its origins, it’s fairly awful. So don’t feel too bad about having never heard of it before.
A child is born in Bethlehem
Something about rejoicing Jerusalem
I see no point in attempting a full translation. A good quarter of the words are archaic enough that they don’t make any sense to me anyway. Suffice it to say, it goes on and on about virgins, cribs, visitors from the East, something about a star, and blahdy blahdy blah for about 10 verses, each verse ending in a paradoxically mournful “hall-ehhh-luuu-jahhhhhh”.
So it’s your fairly standard Christian carol. Fair enough. God knows I love a good carol. Only this one is so mind-numbingly plodding and slow, with none of the soaring beauty of say “O Holy Night”, or the gentle lullaby hush of “Away in a Manger”, that it's damn near impossible to endure, let alone love. Nothing but lackluster and dull. Honestly, I can’t say enough about how much I hate this song.
Did I mention my kids know it? Would you believe me if I told you they like it, and sing it often?
Monday morning I’m in the kitchen making lunches for the smaller two before I send them off to barnehage. Elder Miss has long since left for school on the bus. Boy is sitting at the table rifling for the two thousand and first time through the Toys R’ Us Christmas catalog. Missy the Younger is sitting next to him, happily coloring in her Hello Kitty coloring book, mindlessly humming something decidedly atonal (thank you Grandma Gae). All is relatively quiet and peaceful. My mind has drifted past Christmas, past New Year’s, side-stepped January and February altogether, and is mulling over possible ways to wrangle together enough money to buy Mister the kayak he so desperately wants for his 40th birthday in March. Suddenly, Boy lets out a great, jubilant gasp. His chair, which he’s been teasing out on its back two legs whilst he browses, falls heavily forward and lands on all fours with a loud thud. He triumphantly plants a finger in the middle of the page he’s been looking at as if he’s just now, right here in this very spot, located the precise center and meaning of the entire universe, “Missy! Missy! Looklooklook! Et barn er født i Betlehem Right! Here! In the magazine!” And with out further ado, he launches into the song.
Missy, whose attention was caught with Boy’s gleeful snort of discovery, has dropped her crayon, leaned over the table to get a closer look, and is now droning a long, slow accompaniment to Boy’s song, “Hall-ehhhh-luuuu-jahhhhh, halllll-eh-luuuuuuu-jah, hall-ehhhhh-lu-jahhhh, hallelujahhallelujahhalleluuuuu-jahhhhh….”
Both continue to stare in transfixed wonder at the image on the page as they sing on and on…and on.
I had told the kids when we got them that these catalogues were sent out by Santa as a sort of preview of what his elves are working on. “These are the things you can choose from this year,” I said, “Santa says this is what’s available.” And I’ve flipped through them half a dozen times or so time myself. So I know, in that extra-special, extra-sensory way that mothers just know these things, that this is the item that has got Boy so excited.
I know they have a small Nativity set up at the pre-school. Since I’ve spent exactly zero time explaining the whole birth-of-Jesus, true-meaning-of-Christmas thing to my kids, I assume it’s the teachers at the school who have either used the Nativity to explain the song, or the song to explain the Nativity to them. Either way, I think it’s mildly interesting that the song and a random picture are so closely linked in their minds. It’s like one is the other to them. And I’m pondering this curiosity when Boy abruptly stops singing mid-verse to ask, “But Mom, why would Santa’s elves make a toy Jesus? Is it even allowed to play with the baby Jesus?”
What do you say to that? How do you even begin to answer that question? It’s a fantasy, wrapped inside a myth, cloaked in commercialism so profane it’s almost sacred. But how to you tell that to a 5 year old?