Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Christmas in Italy, Germany, and Brazil
Three different ways
of commemorating Christmas;
three varieties of contemplation
Saint of the Day, December 21, 1973 (*)
If we imagine an elaborate nativity scene in certain regions of Italy, we can see all the figures taking very emphatic attitudes: the Child Jesus lying in the manger, reaching out to Our Lady; She bent over her divine Son in an attitude of profound but bubbly tenderness which tends to manifest itself in gestures that seem to speak; and if the artist manages to have Our Lady and the Child-God convey such an impression that someone would say, “all that’s missing is for them to speak!,” the artist will be delighted because on this scene, talking and manifesting oneself is the pinnacle of achievement. Also St. Joseph, who is nearby (and who naturally plays a more modest role in the dialogue between the Blessed Virgin and the Divine Child as he is only his legal father) appears in a position which, if not just short of talking, seems about to cry or smile according to one’s interpretation, but is extremely expressive.
Clearly, according to this conception religious emotion must be expressed with great vivacity, which in turn must be expressed by thoughts and words. And such thoughts must be lively and expressed in warm and emphatic terms.
The German idea of Christmas night is the exact opposite of the one mentioned above. In order to be sacral, Christmas night has to produce in souls a profound impression, which is common to all peoples. But for the German mentality, since this impression is profound it should not expand because it is located deep in the soul. And the best outward manifestation of it is silence, recollection, and calm.
While for some the words and gestures are the pinnacle of expression, for others the climax of expression is a form of silence and inaction that reveal unsuspected depths of the human soul; and which, by their very silence, indicate the soul’s inability to express everything that it ponders. They indicate a state of mind less exclamatory than pensive and meditative. One would say that it is a recollected, almost philosophical or theological attitude.
However, this calm, which is not of a scientific type, is profoundly tender; a tenderness which indicates such a great affection that the person prefers to be silent rather than to speak. Accordingly, while some have the eloquence of words and gestures, others manifest, as it were, the eloquence of silence and recollection. These are two different positions.
German nativity scene
Which one is the best? I understand that Italians have their own position in this matter, and so do Germans. What would be the Brazilian attitude? That of perfectly understanding and appreciating both positions. This is the typical Brazilian way and it is what I feel in me: a perfect understanding of both Italians and Germans.
As a Brazilian, I would speak less than Italians but remain less quiet than Germans, particularly since by blood I am a Brazilian with the loquacity of Northeasterners.
* * *
These are regional varieties through which God wants to be worshiped by all peoples. So it is not for us to choose but to contemplate the beauty of the various styles.
(*) The preceding article has been translated and adapted for publication without the author's revision. –Ed. American TFP.