Thursday, December 23, 2010

Carol of the Bells

My favorite thing about Christmas Eve in Europe is the church bells.  I love the sound of them anytime I’m there, but at midnight, on Christmas Eve – especially if a light snow is falling – it’s as if the angels were going to float down from the heavens and bathe you in warm light.

Christmas Eve is the highlight of most European Christmas traditions.  In the U.S., some families open gifts on Christmas Eve, but the vast majority open them on Christmas morning.  In Europe it’s the opposite.  Also, here in the U.S., many people buy their Christmas tree already in early December, whereas in Germany, for example, the children don’t even see the family’s tree until Christmas Eve!

I remember one December 24th in Germany as a child, waiting with great anticipation to see the decorated tree (and gifts, of course).  Usually in the early afternoon, the mother or father will purchase a tree and lock it in one of the rooms in the house.  He or she will spend the rest of the afternoon putting on the lights and decorations.
The Christkind
(I have distinct memories of us kids restlessly peeking through the keyhole to see what was going on.)  After a delicious Christmas dinner of roast duck or pork, sauerkraut, and potatoes, mom and dad unlock the door and present the Christmas tree and all the gifts underneath.  Presents are opened, sometimes carols are sung or the Christmas story is read, and families eat marzipan, chocolate, and Lebkuchen (sort of a spicy gingerbread).  Rituals regarding the Christkind (Christ child) or the Weihnachtsmann (the “Christmas Man,” a descendent of Saint Nicolaus who looks much like Santa Claus), who bring the children gifts on December 24th, vary among the different German-speaking regions.  Still another visitor on Christmas Eve is the Christkindl, the Christ child’s messenger, a beautiful fair-haired girl with a shining crown of candles, who also brings sweets and gifts.

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