Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mysteries at Christmas

HH lost his first tooth. It fell out during lunch this weekend and he didn’t blink an eye. “Now I’m a big boy,” he said. And that was it; he went back to eating his pasta and didn’t give it much more thought. At least he didn’t talk about it.

There have been other things on his mind lately, so maybe it’s understandable that the loss of a tooth didn’t make it to the top of the list of things he wanted to talk about. It’s nearing Christmas and he’s having some trouble sorting out the various characters that inhabit the “spirit” landscape here in Germany. Mama and I were away over the recent St. Nicholas weekend, which he spent with his Aunt and Uncle in a nearby town. St. Nicholas found him there however and when he woke on the morning of December 6th, his shoes were filled with candy.

At his Aunt’s house, the “Christkind” makes an appearance on Christmas day bringing toys to good girls and boys, but in Cologne, where we live, the “Weihnachtsmann” is the carrier of the goodies, at least that’s how his Mama tried to explain it to him.

His Aunt told him about Christkind (the Christ child) who will be visiting them on Christmas day and he began wondering why baby Jesus wasn’t going to be in Cologne. That’s a tough one. His mother explained that Christkind would be visiting the children in the countryside and Santa Claus would be visiting the children in the city. To make matters even more complicated, since he lives with an American Papa, it’s Santa Claus who will make his way to his door (we don’t have a fireplace.)

There won’t be many more Christmas seasons where the issue of Santa Claus is as prominent as it is this year. Already one little boy in his kindergarten has been saying that Santa is dead – just a fairy tale. HH came home with that question a few weeks ago and I wiggled around it, cursing the older brother or sister who had ruined it for HH’s classmate and nearly ruined it for HH as well. Maybe it is a bit dishonest to foster the notion of Santa, but there is so little magic in the world that I could not imagine denying him this one experience.

But sorting out the various Yuletide characters isn’t the thing that’s keeping him awake at night; it seems he’s trying to understand the role of the baby Jesus in all of this. HH wants to see Jesus. “He’s invisible,” his mother told him. “What if I worked in the church?” HH countered. “Could I see him if I worked in the church?” His mother explained to him that nobody could actually see Jesus, that he was invisible and that struck HH as intolerably unfair.

His bedroom window looks out onto the stained glass of a Neo-Romanesque church that sits within a stone’s throw of our apartment. It’s no wonder that the baby Jesus is often on his mind and somehow the mixture of Christmas and Jesus have brought him to the topic of death. When people die, why they die, how they die – all of it. Last week he asked, “Can rich people buy a new body when they get old?” That was a stunner! He doesn’t watch the news (we don’t have TV). He doesn’t read the newspaper or scan the Internet. Where did the idea of a full-body transplant originate? It may be completely normal for a five-year-old to ponder these things but I wouldn’t know that – HH is my first and only five-year-old son so everything is new – for the both of us. The idea that Jesus died but still lives may be the sticking point, I’ll have to ask him about that some day or perhaps I’ll just wait for him to bring it up again. I expect this discussion has just begun.

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Blogger christina said...

What a wonderful age to be. So full of questions. Treasure those moments, he'll grow up incredibly fast.

Did you know that the Christkind was invented by Martin Luther in response to the Catholic St. Nicholas? Some think it's an incarnation of the infant Jesus, but the symbolic figure of a young girl or angel, with its blond curly hair, white robes and wings is more probably thought to represent pure, innocent children bringing gifts *to* baby Jesus.

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Man Who Created Santa
As We Know Him Today

Although he could not read or write, Thomas Nast is a perfect example of the importance of knowing our heritage and just how many legacies one person can leave behind. Thomas Nast, through his wood engravings, helped to shape customs not only in America but also throughout the world.

Thomas Nast is best known for his Christmas drawings. His first drawing appeared in Harper's Weekly for Christmas of 1862, marking the first appearance of Santa Claus as we know him today. Prior to this, Santa had passed through a series of stages beginning with a more religious-type figure.

The inspiration for how Nast's Santa should look came from Clement Moore's poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Still lacking reading skills, he had his wife read to him while he prepared his drawings and engravings. On one occasion, Mrs. Nast read Clement Moore's poem to Thomas. That was all it took for inspiration.

The next 24 years saw Nast produce 76 Christmas engravings that were signed and published. Nast used Moore's poem to put it all together in visual form - a sleigh, reindeer, jolly old elf, filling the stockings hung by the chimney, and so forth.

In addition, Nast used his own imagination to expand upon the theme. He was the first to establish that Santa's home was in the North Pole. In this way, Santa didn't belong to any one country - he became a citizen of the world. The concept of Santa having a workshop and elves to help him was also Nast's idea. Prior to his engravings, all children received gifts from Santa. Nast conceived the idea that bad children didn't get gifts from Santa. The custom of sending Santa a letter is also due to Thomas Nast. Although the custom of kissing under mistletoe was known in Europe prior to Nast's engravings, it was through his engravings in America that the custom caught on there.

Thomas Nast brought Christmas to a large audience through his engravings. The result of the impact that these drawings had on Americans is astronomical. In Europe, Christmas was observed for centuries on December 6. By the late 1800's when Nast's Santa Claus gained popularity, Christmas Day was legally established as December 25 in all states and territories in the United States. In addition, an extended school vacation during this period became a custom. (A brief pause while all students write a thank you note to the Nast estate.)

From this seed, Christmas began the move to commercial and economic interests. Stores began including drawings of Santa (though not necessarily done by Nast) in their ads and tying it in with Christmas sales and promotions. Soon to follow was the custom of sending Christmas cards. Without Nast and the Christmas drawings that he brought to the masses, it is hard to tell what Christmas and the customs that go with it would be like today.

Religious symbolism of The Twelve Days of Christmas

1 True Love refers to God

2 Turtle Doves refers to the Old and New Testaments

3 French Hens refers to Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues

4 Calling Birds refers to the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists

5 Golden Rings refers to the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.

6 Geese A-laying refers to the six days of creation

7 Swans A-swimming refers to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments

8 Maids A-milking refers to the eight beatitudes

9 Ladies Dancing refers to the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit

10 Lords A-leaping refers to the ten commandments

11 Pipers Piping refers to the eleven faithful apostles

12 Drummers Drumming refers to the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

So many cultures each so diverse with it's heritage. One I have heard of was of the elder cobbler shoemaker name Nick. He made shoes for children and put them on their doorstep. He was not a Saint but in time given it's prefix "St"Nick. The spirit of his good heart was paralleled with the spirit of giving as Christ gave to all life. The birth of Baby Jesus and with Gods grace we have all received one blessing after another.

"To believe is know love is eternial." That's what my Mom told me.

10:28 PM  
Blogger Ralph said...

As parents we want to protect our children as much as possible, and that includes nurturing some fond myths, like Santa, to make their world a better, brighter place than it actually is: what parent can resist playing the "Catcher in the Rye"? Anyway, HH's inquisitiveness and self-assurance indicates that you and your wife must be doing the right things.

Merry Christmas to you, and best regards for a Happy New Year.

3:02 PM  
Blogger Berlinbound said...

Thanks and Happy New Year to everyone!

7:03 AM  
Anonymous NYCtoNewHampshire said...

My daughter's first exposure to death was when she was 4 years old and our cat died. After we buried the cat, my daughter said, "Now we wait until Spring when Kitty will come alive again."

11:46 PM  

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