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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