Friday, December 13, 2013

The Advent of Christmas

According to German tradition, the celebration of Advent over the four Sundays before Christmas started in an orphanage in Hamburg.

In much the same way children of today count down to big events in terms of the number of sleeps, the orphans counted down the weeks to Christmas using a wreath of candles - six smaller candles for weekdays, and a big white candle for each Sunday. Each day another candle was lit.

Image Source: Wikipedia

Since 28 candles would be a fire hazard in most homes, the wreath was simplified to four candles - one for each Sunday, which is what we use today.

For those of us who celebrate the tradition, Advent is a whole lot more than just an evergreen wreath and a few candles. It's about family, community and about remembering what Christmas is really about.

When I was a child I was blessed to have a large family of aunts, uncles and cousins living close by. Every Sunday evening for the four weeks before Christmas we would get together to sing Christmas carols by the light of candles and the special Advent star.

My mother put together booklets containing dozens of English and German carols, and we each had a turn to select a song, starting with the youngest member of the family (usually my little brother) and ending with Omi, the family matriarch.

The last song was always Silent Night, to be sung in whichever language you chose. I always liked to mix it up and sing alternate verses in different languages.

After the carolling, we kids would do battle to blow out the most candles, and then there'd be coffee and Christmas biscuits (and cooldrinks for us kids). If we were really lucky, my grandmother would ration out the biscuits that came to be known as Omi's Specials, the Elisen biscuits containing almonds, hazelnuts and a spoonful of rum, baked on a rice paper base.

These days the family is scattered around the planet and my children are growing up wthout this wonderful experience. Advent celebrations are usually five of us sitting in the lounge singing along to CDs! At least we still have the Advent star, the candles and the cookies.

On the first Sunday of Advent this year, though, we joined the local German church for their Advent celebration. What a joy to be part of a community again, and to sing with loads of other voices - and the biscuits and cakes always taste so much better shared in company than eaten alone!

For me, the celebration of Advent represents everything that is best about Christmas. Not Santa Claus or gifts or the decorations in all the shopping malls, but family, tradition, and the whole reason for Christmas in the first place: the birth of a child who brought hope and light to the world.
Very apt, even for those of us who celebrate it in the brightness of midsummer rather than the darkness of midwinter.

What is your favourite part of Christmas, and what does it mean to you? I'd love to hear your stories!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Written Fireside: His Way Home, Part 5

Welcome to the fifth installment in the ongoing round-the-campfire story of His Way Home.

If you haven't yet read the previous installments, you can find them here:
Part 1 - Lori Connelly
Part 2 - Sarah Lefebve
Part 3 - Zara Stoneley
Part 4 - Lynn Marie Hulsman


Now read on...

Beth’s mouth opened, but no words came out. Matthew wouldn’t believe her anyway. Just last night he’d told her to get her head out the clouds and face reality, and the thought that had started to form... it was too improbable.
Improbable but inescapable. And there wasn’t much time.

“We need to talk,” she told Matthew.

His brow furrowed. “Then talk.”

She drew in a deep breath. She had no idea where to start. She sat in the chair where Walter had sat not so long ago. “Tell me about your grandmother.”

His frown deepened, but he sat in the armchair across from her. “I don’t remember much about her. Towards the end she was a little batty. Kept going on about a slip in time and how she needed to get home to undo the damage she’d done.”

“How did she die?”

Matthew looked away. “One day she walked out into the woods towards Watchtower Hill and she never came home. We searched everywhere but we never found her.”

The tower-shaped hill brooded over the neighbourhood. The woods that surrounded it were dark and eerie, and Beth had never dared ventured there in all the time she’d lived here on the farm with Matthew.

He sighed, and when his gaze again met hers there was sadness in them. “My grandmother grew up in a cabin in those woods. It’s the first place we looked, but the place was a ruin and there was no sign of her.”

Beth squared her shoulders. “Then that’s where we need to start.” She rose and headed for the closet where they stored their emergency gear. They’d worked with search and rescue teams in the area before, helping to find lost hikers. This wouldn’t be much different.

Matthew rose behind her. “Are you insane? Do you have any idea how cold it is outside? And a storm warning’s been issued. That’s why I came home.”

She stopped in her tracks. He was right. Walter would never make it on foot. Not as fast as he was aging. “We’ll have to take the old sled,” she said.

Matthew came around and took her hands. “You’re starting to frighten me, Beth. What’s got into you?”

The door behind him swung open, and Walter stood in the door. They both gasped.

Part Six will be up on Jane Lark's blog on 17th December.