‘Tis the season…

… actually, it’s about “the season” long past, the way I remember it when I grew up in Germany. Not all that many years after WW II, when people didn’t have much money, when there wasn’t much to buy even if one did, when ingenuity and inventiveness more than made up for lack of commercial goods.

When I was a kid, Christmas was magical and full of delight. It started with December 1st, the beginning of the Advent season. I received an Advent Calendar, a little stiff paper picture decorated with sparkling silver glitter. It would show a modest scene of some angels decorating a Christmas Tree, or some deer in a snowy forest. Every day one had to open a tiny window with a star, a candle, a snow man, or a similar symbol behind it. Every opened window would bring us impatient children a little closer to Christmas. Do you remember how long a day used to be, when you were five or six years old?

On the night from the 5th to the 6th Saint Nicholas stopped by and filled our shoes with nuts, apples, foil-covered chocolate, and small presents. Sometimes he would show up in person at some social gathering, but I didn’t like this so much. He was some scary dude, huge and fat, with a white beard and wild white hair. With him came his helper “Knecht Ruprecht”, a skinny, wiry guy who’d caper around, threatening us kids with a bunch of twigs he’d wave through the air. But unlike St. Nicholas, he was funny; one didn’t have to take him all that serious. He was all bark and no bite, pulling little presents out of St. Nicholas’s big sack and handing one to each child.

The Sundays in December were special because that’s when the four candles of the advent wreath would be lit; starting with one candle on the first Sunday, and then two on the next Sunday, and so on. Again, this was a device to shorten this time of waiting, although it would simultaneously make the time stretch like taffy. It felt as if Christmas would never come…

But then, it did. The big event for which we kids had been waiting was Christmas Eve, the evening of December 24th. That’s when the Christ Child would bring the Christmas Tree and the presents. The Christ Child wasn’t like Baby Jesus or some other version of Christ really; it was more like a childlike angel. It (the German language assigns the neutral pronoun “das” [it] to children) spent the whole day in the living room decorating the tree and arranging the presents, so the room was locked from the inside and we were not allowed to enter. Our parents were inside too, helping, and would only emerge to give us a quick bite to eat. This was easily the longest day of the year! Waiting became almost painful, but then, about an hour after sunset, we heard the tinkling of a tiny silver bell — the sign that the doors would open…

And there was the Christmas Tree in all its glory, illuminated by burning wax candles. Electric lamps were turned off, and the room shimmered and glowed with the candle light that was reflected in shiny glass ornaments and silvery tinsel. I remember the moment of awe and delight, when there was nothing else to do but admire the beautiful sparkling tree. And after this moment, of course, the presents demanded attention!

Like all civilized countries Germany celebrates Christmas for two days, with December 26th being a holiday when stores, offices, banks, even movie theaters, are closed. Christmas Trees and decorations are kept up until January 5th, the Three Kings Day. Now, THAT’S the season…


About artnexus

art-lover photographer
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