Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Eve / Heiligabend 2011

In Germany, the crescendo to the holiday festivities is Christmas Eve. In Berlin on this day, called "Heiligabend" ("Holy Evening" in German), people gather with family and friends for a special meal and opening presents. And many people also attend Christmas services at church even if they aren't that interested in religion the rest of the year.

Our church plant's tradition is to have a special Christmas Brunch together and then go to a local hospital to sing Christmas carols for the patients. This year after the meal, the adults gathered together for a short time of worship and I had a special service for the children. Since the other kids in our project were away for the holidays, it was just my two kids and me.

I had saved an orange crate a couple of weeks ago with the idea of turning it into a manger. Frontier Dreams has a lovely post about growing grass for the manger that I want to try next year. However, I started too late this year, so I have to admit that I used the nesting grass we buy for our hamster instead.:) I made a simple altar in the kitchen with nativity figures, the Christ Candle and the Godly Play Christmas board and placed the manger on the floor in front of it.

My daughter immediately wanted to know why it was empty and offered to get one of her dolls to put in it.  I told her it was empty on purpose and reminded her that Advent was a time of preparing our hearts to receive God's gift of Jesus. Today we would receive God's gift new and fresh in our lives and I didn't want to put a specific "face" on that gift. 

At the same time, we would also think about what we wanted to give Jesus as a gift. I then gave each of us some modeling clay and told the kids that we would make something out of clay that we want to give Jesus. It was a very informal, sweet moment with my children and God.

Some of our gifts for Jesus.

My daughter working on her gifts for Jesus. 

This was our third year in a row to sing at the hospital and it has come to be one of my favorite parts of Christmas. The patients are usually elderly and the familiar songs bring comfort to them as they spend Christmas Eve in strange place. Each year we have seen men and women moved to tears as we sing. We take our kids along and that it is an added blessing for the patients to see happy, healthy children. 

Our singing group.

My son is old enough to read the words to the songs now!

Our family Christmas portrait.

Being Americans, my kids have to wait until Christmas Day to open their presents. They don't seem to mind even though all their friends get to open theirs on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day is then a very relaxed day of being together, playing games and eating good food. (My husband and I bake a goose each year.)

And in Germany, we get two days for Christmas.  Dec. 26 is also an official holiday and most businesses are closed as well.  Everyone spends the day with family and resting from the previous stress. It's a great tradition and I think that every country should have two days for Christmas!

We spent our second Christmas day by taking a stroll in the park, playing games, learning with my daughter to knit (she got knitting needles and a how-to book for Christmas) and watching "A Christmas Carol".

Hope the next few days are peaceful for you as we count down to 2012!

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