There’s a much-sung and well-loved Christmas carol called Silent Night.
The first verse goes like this:
Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace
And while we are on the subject of the Nativity scene, and what exactly happened ’round yon Virgin’ that night, it’s important to dig a little deeper and meet an often overlooked character in the play.
There’s a beautiful story that always puts a smile on my face. Apparently it’s true. This actually happened.
Somewhere in England, not so long ago, there was a Year 2 class in a Catholic Primary school. That makes them about 6 years old.
They were asked, in the lead up to Christmas, to draw a Nativity Scene as part of their Religious Education curriculum. It’s easy to imagine the scene: children huddled over tables strewn with art paper; faces frowning with expressions of concentration; murmurs of cooperation and conflict over wax crayons; the teacher milling from table to table dolling out praise and encouragement to some, and coaxing reluctant responses out of those who are reticent or distracted.
The children plug away at it for twenty minutes or so when one of the boys puts his crayon down, sits back, holds his drawing up in front of his own face and with a bark of satisfaction exclaims, from behind his completed assignment: Done Miss!
It’s an invitation. Our Boy is clearly proud of his efforts and he is giving the teacher a chance to do her job, which is to bestow some well deserved compliments on his Nativity Scene and the artist that produced it. He knows how this works.
The teacher draws alongside him and examines the work. It’s vivid. It’s full of life and energy. She’s drawn in and, somehow, feels like a spectator at the birth of Jesus. A hush descends on her pious Catholic heart.
All the details are there, and in all the right places: Jesus is central, in his crib; Mary and Joseph flank him as proud parents; there are donkeys and shepherds and wise men bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
And then she sees him.
In amongst it all, with his thumbs up and smiling like a photo-bomber, is a jovial fat bloke, in tracksuit bottoms and a Chelsea shirt, with a Burberry cap on his head.
In England he’d be called a chav and this chav is beaming like he’s won the lottery!
The teacher asks Our Boy, after engaging him in discussion about his artwork: And who is this? Over here?
She’s pointing at the fat bloke in the sports kit with the cap on.
Don’t you know, Miss?
No, I’m sorry, she answers. I don’t know who that is. I’ve never seen him before.
Come on Miss! Snorts Our Boy. Of course you know him! You’ve been singing about him for years.
By now he has the attention of most of his classmates. All eyes are on the teacher, waiting for her response.
When none comes Our Boy puts the teacher out of her misery.
That, Miss, he points.
He looks up at her.
...is Round John Virgin.
NB: In British slang a ‘chav’, also ‘charver’ and ‘scally in parts of Northern England, is a pejorative term used to describe an anti-social lower-class youth dressed in sportswear