According to one holiday planning guide which I found in my old files, as I packed to move to Germany, I am way behind in my preparation for the Christmas season (never mind Thanksgiving); since ‘to ensure a calm and festive December’, by now I should have:
• Evaluated and topped up my wrapping essentials
• Started a Christmas notebook
• Bought extra canned goods for holiday food drives
• Bought and wrapped gifts for 4 persons, (8 by the time you read this)
• Bought and begun to address Christmas cards and envelops
• Stocked up on pantry essentials
• Brought out the Tree, detangled Christmas lights
• AND bought tickets to holiday performances such as The Nutcracker & A Christmas Carol! (Which are likely on sale right now!)
Clearly an old article, not adjusted to any semblance of Christmas preparation realities for December of the year 2020. For most, if not all of us, it is more than a little redundant to say that there is not much that will be familiar about the holidays this year. For me, the Holiday season is going to be even a bit more complicated, with us being abroad, our children now spread across three states of the US and extended family being even further far-flung.
New Ways Past Old Ruts
Yet, because many of our family’s best memories have to do with this Season of all seasons, I personally need to do something to touch and hold family close to heart as well as to the eternal significance of it all. Besides, as COVID has been proving, it can be an unprecedented opportunity to get rid of some of the ‘familiar’ that should have been left behind a long time ago! The true challenge no doubt is going to be, “What will we replace the empty ‘fillers’ of the past with?” I am sure that I am not the only person who is in danger of settling into old ruts of stress and strain, despite having more time on my hands than I have had since early childhood; I am still ending each day wondering where the time went. (Though, in all fairness, the sun sets by 4:30 here!). With much grace, I aim to resist the empty busy-work without neglecting the heart of the Christmas season and, to that end, it’s the internet to the rescue… again. I cannot believe I just admitted that, but the truth is we have found meaningful ways to celebrate three of our family’s Fall birthdays this year so far, employing the internet. Timed cash-drops punctuated with the happy birthday song; enlisting a friend’s event decorating prowess to deliver ‘birthday’ to the door of a senior family member; and, other than gifting thru online shopping, spending quality family time in group chats like Zoom, encouraging and building each other up; or in coordinated movie watching.
Searching for Christmas in Germany
One of the joyful anticipations that our recent relocation had held out was the romantic idea that Germany is the place to be for Christmas—Land of the great toy-makers, craftsmen and engineers; neat, centuries old towns made more magical with Christmas markets and lighted villages; the glory of the season there often pictured in travel magazines. Well, like most things, it seems we will have to wait and see. It will likely be a scaled down version, at twice the price for lack of competition, as smaller businesses have down-sized or totally folded. Nonetheless, we made a visit to our first German toy/gift store a couple weeks ago. Granted, it was in the ‘Mall’ of a military base close to hubby’s place of employ but was truly a smorgasbord of toy, and Christmas decorating “tinker-try”. Sadly, just like the large grocery store, clearly aimed at the heavily American population of the city’s military bases, the shelves fully stocked for the season, had little to do with the nativity of Christ. I purchased three of the six truly Advent based calendars at the toy-shop, postponing purchase of the few but lovely ‘Nativity Pyramids’ due to expensive pricing, and found not even a single nativity-themed advent calendar in the grocery store’s large chocolate-backed inventory. With most being typically chocolate ‘treats’ behind each of 24 foil windows representing the countdown to what is traditionally Christmas Day, the choices also now crazily range in size and content from spa-based self-care tips and toiletries to barista coffee or alcoholic beverage additives.
Heart of the Master-Maker
I thought of the folk craftsmen from past centuries of this industrious and ingenious people, and wondered at what stage they would have been in their tinkering this time of year— designing toys and crafting wooden figures of all sorts to delight children at the most joyous time of the year. How much fore-thought and planning to ensure that their wheels and cogs and pulleys resulted in the ‘Oooo,s!!!’ and ‘Aaaaah,s!!! of surprise and delight from the little ones that would receive them. I have been amazed recently at our own children’s creative abilities in their respective fields of interest or career, being also quite aware of the work and sleepless hours that go into fashioning an item of delight or pleasure, even if it’s for a professor or employer. From idea, through trials and errors to success, it is quite a journey. I wonder how many of the ’Nativity pyramids’ were set afire before the design was perfected?!— the carousels displaying nativity figures on platforms turned by gears are motored by the warmth of votive candles rising and turning the helicopter-like propellers at the top of the display; and all this made of miniature, dry, thin wood pieces and fittings! Each a masterpiece in its own right—a ‘Poeima’—like we are described in Ephesians 2:10 to be, of God’s precise design and crafting.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
In this portrait of the Creator I see a wonderful parallel in the German toymakers—God, planning, designing and creating us, not just for His pleasure but also that we might have pleasure working the gifts of His design as well, to our pleasure! I confess that a large part of my amazement at the creative gifting and execution of delightful works by my children, like their creator is the patience and sheer endurance to see the process through to the end. Be it the intricacy of fitting and fine-detailed painting of a remodeled miniature figure, the sheer pleasure of a perfectly edited story graphically told on screen or the breath-taking creation of an architectural model capturing a design concept, there is sacrifice involved, the sacrifice of passion, of love.
Prepared Gifts to Welcome the King
This is what sustains in the dark days of COVID isolation, His grace-gifts at work in us. I think that’s what was behind our being created as well. God knew we would each need the specific gifts He gives us, to battle the dark forces and schemes of wickedness in our day. I grasp why C.S. Lewis had Father Christmas deliver the gifts to the Pevensie children in his renown classic, the Chronicles of Narnia. Bestowed during their flight from the evil that was the White Witch, who made it always Winter but never Christmas, these were not mere gifts but potent weapons for good—from a benevolent mysterious Father-figure equipping them for the battles to come. He comes at a time when we most need to be convinced that even in Winter there is reason for hope and joy—Christmas!—the Advent of Aslan, the Christ figure in the series!
This Christmas I will harness the power of the web again to design a true Advent calendar for our family; one that might entice use of our pre-prepared gifts. I think I can muster enough love and passion to see me through to completion; I will be totally motivated by the pleasure I hope it will unveil to the family, not merely of my love but of the Father who from eternity past designed these good works so each of us in our unique way may help magnify and display the One who is the Way, the truth and the Life. Maybe the Christmas planner was right—twenty-four days to reflect on this is not nearly enough time.