In Olympia, on Christmas eve, if you go anywhere outside of your home, there is a harried rush of last minute activity. Shoppers dart from store to store buying gifts they’ll realize they didn’t need and grocery aisles are a traffic jam of carts filled with the leftovers of tomorrow.
This Christmas eve we travelled to Regensburg to shop at a Christmas market we had read about. We parked our car and began a walk through the narrow streets. The first thing I noticed was the lack of activity. The streets were empty. No one was out. Restaurants were shuttered, only a few shop doors were open. The Christmas market, advertised online to be open until 2pm, was partially disassembled… empty. We passed few people as we made our way by orange and blue and yellow painted buildings. The carved stone facades framed rounded old wood doors with hand-wrought iron handles. We relished the architecture and marveled that the buildings we passed were older than any we’d ever seen in our young country!
As we toured the still, quiet city, our bellies began to rumble. Deciding to go to the next open restaurant, we found ourselves in a small café with tiny tables and tall chairs. The menu was entirely in German, no two-word quasi-English hint as to what each item was. So we ordered blindly, looking around at the plates of those around us. It was a true culinary adventure as the waitress brought plates of cheeses, meats, breads, and sauces – among them, a spiced honey, a fresh strawberry jam and spicy mustard. There were a couple of bowls of soup as well. We had a tasty meal and left the café filled with good, new food.
As we walked back to the car, we passed a brass band playing Christmas carols. A few onlookers had gathered, the most people we had seen all day. It was very interesting how the German people had holed themselves into their homes on Christmas eve…probably preparing for the big day, or simply spending time with family. Even though we didn’t get to go to the Christmas market we had looked forward to, I was satisfied. I liked the quiet…the simple white lights strung from buildings across cobbled streets were evidence that Christmas was celebrated and loved. I didn’t miss the hurried hubbub of shoppers.
Back in Velberg, we took a walk through town as the sun set. We were mostly alone, a few dogs wandered and a man swept his porch. We smiled a greeting as we passed. The narrow cobblestone streets wound through a tangle of buildings, most with a shop or restaurant on the ground floor and apartments above. In the doorways of each were simple Christmas decorations consisting of twigs, logs, wood stars, mercury glass globes, red berries and a candle in a lantern, glowing with soft light. Communal living is the standard in Germany and each porch hugged the street, leaving no room for fancy decorations, if the inhabitants had even wanted such a gawdy display. The décor was much different than the shiny, colorful, cartoony décor of home. A nativity scene in a window, unpainted wood ornaments, candles, greenery, white lights. Simplicity reigned. Much like the simplicity of the first Christmas. Just a stable and some hay…a king in a manger. Plain but profound.
I think I may pare back my Christmas décor after experiencing Germany at Christmas time. The spare, natural way they celebrate is very appealing. The way they finished their hustle and settled in to celebrate was sweet with solitude. At first, a little haunting, but ultimately, serene and more conducive to worship and honor of the real meaning of the season.
Christmas in Germany was less than what I expected yet ultimately exactly what I wanted…to appreciate the purity of what Christmas is really about. To celebrate the beauty and grace of all that God has given us in his Son and His creation.