In reply to my story about artificial Christmas trees that can be delivered to your home in boxes, I received a reply from a dear friend in faraway Austria.
His story reflects something of what we have lost in today’s commercialism of Christmas. He tells how he celebrated Christmas Eve with his wife and 15 year-old daughter according to old family traditions. I will let him tell the story so you can appreciate it in all its authenticity and charm:
“Indeed, organizing the placement of an eleven-foot high fir tree, which hopefully will fit into your lounge, was not an easy task. I had to shlep it up the staircase, squeeze it through the doors, erect it, climb up the ladder and fix the glittering star at the very top of the tree´s last shoot. We then added tinsel to the outspread branches with bushy twigs, placing and carefully attaching a dozen red candles with some kind of artistic touch. We hung different sized chocolate pieces wrapped in an assortment of colored aluminum foil. There also hung figures of hearts and animals made of lebkuchen produced in your own kitchen. The whole decoration process involved giving and receiving approval by loved ones.
“Finally, we placed the manger underneath the tree, and put in all its characters (except for the Infant Jesus, the three kings and their camels who will come at Epiphany). All of this makes Christmas a unique experience for us every year.
“A few hours later, after having prepared ourselves and dressed for the evening festivities, the bell rang and we entered the living room and were positively startled by the shine of the glimmering candle light. After a few moments of marveling at this beautiful sight and the special smell of wax, we sang two or three stanzas of well-known carols, before praying the Our Father who art in Heaven.
“I normally read the Christmas Gospel. However, this time, our 15-year-old Anna-Maria insisted on doing it. Thus, we sensed in a serious way, that the Christ-Child had actually arrived as our Savior and was present at our home.
“Finally we sang three verses of Silent Night, Holy Night in German before wishing all a Merry Christmas and hugging each other heartily. After carefully and slowly unwrapping our gifts, commenting on them, thanking each other and having dinner, we end up, of course, at Midnight Mass around the corner at St.Charles’ Church in Vienna. There we followed the very special liturgy, precisely describing the story of the birth of Jesus and culminating in everybody joining in to sing THE famous Christmas carol, Silent Night, written and composed in Austria some 200 years ago…”
Thus, ends the story of my Austrian friend. It is a refreshing account that proves the spirit of Christmas lives on despite all the efforts of those who conspire against this most august feast. It is a refreshing contrast to the boxed Christmas trees I described in my former article. May this story encourage us all to keep Christ in Christmas, in our hearts and in the public square during this festive season and throughout 2014!