If you hear shouts of glee coming from the eastern side of the United States, that's me. The holiday season is here and, with it, that glorious stuff we call Christmas music. Where I live, most radio stations begin playing Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving. After baking my Southern Style Dressing, carving the turkey and thanking God for all his blessings, this is what I wait for.

On Black Friday I ventured from the safety of home but only to run a quick errand. During the short time span, I heard not one… not two… but four songs about Mary, the mother of Jesus:

Mary, Did You Know?

You're Here

Mary, Sweet Mary

Breath of Heaven 

Having just returned from my third trip to Israel, I reflected momentarily on the places there which honor her, the things I've read about Mary in biblical commentaries, and - of course - the Bible.

So, what do we know about this Jewish girl turned mother of God? What do the places and the writings tell us? Just who are we singing about when, during this time of year, we sing of Mary.

The Holy Land 

If one was touring Israel only to visit the places of Mary, it would be enough to fill days. There are sites of interest from Nazareth to Bethlehem back to Nazareth and finally to Jerusalem. One of the most prominent in Nazareth - certainly the most visible - is the Basilica of the Annunciation, built over a cave where pilgrims have come- even as far back as the 4th century. The grotto is traditionally noted as part of Mary's home and the place where Gabriel visited her to tell her she was most blessed of all women.

Nearby the Basilica - which is adorned in the colonnaded courtyard and within the interior of the upper sanctuary with paintings, sculptures, and magnificent depictions of Mary from countries near and far - is a church (St. Gabriel's) built over the first century spring from which Mary would have daily drawn water for her family.

While the basilica in Nazareth is the largest church building in the Middle East, Bethlehem boasts the Church of the Nativity, the oldest church in the Holy Land still in use. It is here that St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, marked the location of the Savior's birth, the place where Mary became the mother of God.

One of the most unique places for me is an unassuming large rock beside a highway just outside of Jerusalem called the Katisma (Gk./seat). Around the rock are the ruins (mosaics and pillars) of an octagonal church once called The Church of Mary's Seat. Ancient tradition says that Mary, nearing her time of delivery, and Joseph stopped here on their way to Bethlehem and that Mary rested upon the rock. There, she went into labor. 

Also outside Jerusalem is the pictorial village of Ein Karem where tradition says Elizabeth (Mary's relative) and Zechariah lived and where Mary came to visit for three months after the angelic visitation. Today the Church of the Visitation is built where tradition says Mary spoke her words of the Magnificant (Luke 1:46). Her song of glory is posted on a garden wall in over forty languages. On Mount Zion is the Dormition Abby, where tradition says Mary fell asleep and died.

Commentaries and the Like 

Words written about Mary, outside of the words of the Bible, could fill volumes and those volumes could fill the shelves of the largest libraries in the world. Some has been supposed and some has been deduced from what we know about the lives of Jewish girls in first century Israel. They gathered wheat and they baked it. They tended both flocks and family. They drew water, then used it to wash and cook with. They sheared sheep, goats, and even used plant fibers for cloth. They spent hours of every day spinning and weaving.

As a young woman - somewhere between twelve and fourteen - Mary (who would have been called Miryam) became betrothed to a carpenter, Joseph. We don't have the details, but we can be assured that, like all Jewish men, Joseph approached Mary's father, offered a mohar (bride-price), and that Mary took the "cup of acceptance" - a cup of wine poured by Joseph - and drank from it. She would have then been in a time of preparation for her bridegroom to return for her, which was usually a year period.