In Germany, the “big day” is not Christmas Day (and we even have two of them!) but Christmas Eve – Heilig Abend (Holy Eve) as it is called. It usually starts out hectic, often with the last big shopping because all of the stores and supermarkets will be closed for the following two days. But around 2:00pm the shops (including the grocery stores) close and by 3:00pm at the latest a magical silence covers the entire country like a beautiful veil. The ideal December 24th brings snow in the afternoon and turns the world into a winter wonderland by the time the first church bells start to ring.
Oh, the sound of church bells – how much do I miss this! They ring every day (at 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning, at noon and again at 6:00pm), but on Christmas Eve all the bells are ringing, from the smallest, highest pitch to the biggest one with the deepest, loudest sound. It’s a concert of bells that resounds through the silence, calling for mass. Christmas services start in the later afternoon, the first ones mainly for smaller children, showing nativity plays and involving the kids. Later in the evening follow the more “grown-up” services with meaningful sermons and the old German Christmas carols sung by the congregation. Everybody knows these songs and since the churches are always packed on Christmas Eve it is a strong and joyful singing.
After church it’s back home – and waiting for Christkind (Christ Child). Yes – it often is not Santa coming through the chimney (there are not that many houses with a fireplace anyway) but Christkind. When I was a child I always envisioned Christkind with golden curly hair and a flowing white dress, an angelic smile on its face. It would place the presents in “die gute Stube” (“the good room” = living room) and magically disappear, unseen by anyone. The children are called in and they stand in awe looking at the Christmas tree – that was brought in and decorated only the day before (or even in the morning) and very often carries real candles on its branches (I’m a little bit afraid that those of you who have read about how we set the advent wreath on fire now might think of us as pyromaniacs). I have always loved the real candles, it smells differently and the whole atmosphere is – yes, magical. After singing a few Christmas carols everybody opens their presents accompanied by Christmas music on the radio.
And if you’re still awake or missed the afternoon/evening service you can go to midnight mass – always my favorite Christmas service. A huge tree is lit (some with real candles – we live dangerously in
the atmosphere is festive and peaceful – it is our “Silent Night, Holy Night”.
May the magic of Christmas touch your heart, wherever you are.
If you're celebrating Hanukkah, I wish you joy and happiness. May you have a peaceful Holiday of Lights.