Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Renewal

My first job as a Christmas clerk in a garden center forever changed the way I look at Christmas in the U.S. Instead of the magical childhood memories of handmade sequined stockings hanging by the fireplace, listening to Ludwig Thoma's Heilige Nacht on Christmas Eve and snowy trips to grandma's house, Christmas retail is one of the deepest levels of hell.  From the non-stop electronic Christmas music to selling kittens and puppies of dubious origin, from the unreasonable demands of procrastinating customers to the kitsch, kitsch, kitsch, kitsch!

Christmas in rural Austria is a return to the magic of childhood.  Yes, there is a commercial aspect, but it ends exactly at 2:00 pm on Christmas Eve.  From that time on, Christmas is all about church and family.

Before mass at 5:30 pm, nearly everyone visits the cemetery to light candles on the graves of their loved ones.  Then the entire town proceeds to the church, not one by one, but as a whole community while a brass band plays a processional on the main square.

The (unheated!) church is ablaze with candles, even those decorating the Charlie Brown Christmas tree on the altar.  Christmas carols played by a Styrian trio float down from the balcony.  The air, thick with incense and pine, jingles with offerings well into the Communion liturgy. After being greeted, led in prayer, serenaded, absolved, blessed, and dismissed, the entire congregation meets outside on the street and disperses family by family to their individual Christmas dinners and gift exchanges.

After a hearty meal including all of the Austrian food groups (fried meat, potatoes, rice, and pumpkinseed oil), cherished gifts were given and received.  Then I enjoyed the close harmony of a family singing songs both sacred and profane, accompanied by piano, guitar, Bohemian bagpipes and zither.  When I walked home late that night, I reflected on the many wonderful gifts of God:  good health, dear friends, close family, air travel, music, high mountains, bright stars and the Son.

1 comment:

BakerGirl said...

Some of the best Christmas memories I have are from when we lived in Belgium. It was very different and I loved it.

Working retail for Christmas last year was misery. I couldn't have faced another Christmas in retail. It sucks all of the life and joy out of you.