Today, the afternoon of Christmas eve, we decided to bike around town watching stores closing, visitors walking home, Christmas markets deconstructing. While we drove along, the church bells of the Munich churches started ringing, inviting to the first Christmas service.
We listened to some street musicians, and watched the moon rising over the city. On the way back we biked through the English Garden, Munich’s central park, experiencing the holy night settling in, watched by thousands of crows hanging out in the empty trees.
It was a truly magic atmosphere with fresh cool air carrying an earthy smell of a winter which has not yet come. The park usually boasts of people but tonight is only visited by few, some tourists, some walking their dogs before the night swallows the last bits of light, at a bridge there was the accordion player packing up his wares for the night.
While peddling into the dark we were wondering about the fact, that on Christmas eve all doors are closing and one feels like a stranger navigating the emptying town.
Entering the city again from the darkening park we met families walking out from the Leopold church close by. The family service was over and people made their way home, children running with their parents following behind.
We are not ready for Christmas. In fact we are not Christmas fans, mostly. This year we said to each other: let's skip it all together. Lets enjoy the Christmas markets, but not spend energy on all the things and cookies and buying and trying to feel blessed.
Still the spirit of christmas found us: It might have been the mulled wine on the German markets, or the many church bells ringing, even the days we spent with the flu tucked in bed, or it might have been the long nights I sat in the lights of a candle to calm my unsettled heart not knowing the way ahead. But when we came home one night and by accident heard the end of the St. Olaf Christmas concert on the radio, my heart was opening up for the wonder of light and night and new beginnings.
Always, again, we try to run away from Christmas. Always, again, it finds us where we are.
Here is a poem I love dearly by the German poet Hermann Hesse about exactly this melancholic ambivalence coping with the Christmas tradition. So Chuck and I today used the time before the midnight mass to translate it for you. May the wonder of Christmas find you where ever you are:
Immer wieder wird er Mensch geboren
Spricht zu frommen, spricht zu tauben Ohren,
Kommt uns nah und geht uns neu verloren.
Immer wieder muß er einsam ragen,
aller Brüder Not und Sehnsucht tragen,
Immer wird er neu ans Kreuz geschlagen.
Immer wieder will sich Gott verkünden,
Will das Himmlische ins Tal der Sünden,
Will ins Fleisch der Geist, der ewige, münden.
Immer wieder, auch in diesen Tagen,
ist der Heiland unterwegs, zu segnen,
Unsern Ängsten, Tränen, Fragen, Klagen
Mit dem stillen Blicke zu begegnen,
Den wir doch nicht zu erwidern wagen,
Weil nur Kinderaugen ihn ertragen
Always again is He born a human
To speak to the pious and the proud,
Lives among us and is lost to us.
Always again must He stand alone,
Bear all our need and longing,
Ever anew nailed to the tree.
Always again, God will himself proclaim
Will lay the heavens in sinful valleys,
Will pour eternal spirit into flesh.
Always again, even on this day,
The Savior is on the way
To bless, to meet our fears and questions
tears and clamor with the silent tender gaze,
that we do not dare encounter --
And only children's eyes can bear.
(Hermann Hesse, transl. by Chuck Huff & Almut Furchert)