Arlesheim, Basel-Landschaft (BL), Schweiz/Suisse/Svizzera/Switzerland

[1984 Nikon FE2 SLR 35-mm roll film camera, s/n 1816483, with Nikkor AI 50-mm f/1.8 lens, s/n 2336591, and 52-mm polarizing filter;
Kodak Ektar 125 (Kodak 5101 | Ektar 125-1) 36-exposure colour negative film]

© Copyright photograph by Stephan Alexander Scharnberg, November 1991

Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas

Only sixteen days until Christmas—Christmas Eve, that is. You see, in my experience and cultural upbringing, December 25th was never Christmas for me. It was the evening before. On Christmas Day my family slept in, usually until late morning, the main festivities already behind us. A noontime family dinner would still follow on the 25th or 26th, varying from year to year.

From earliest childhood memory I remember snow (most years—we seemed to have more of it then than now—and I grew up on Vancouver Island, first in Lake Cowichan and Honeymoon Bay, then Duncan). At six o’clock the livingroom door was unlocked and we all walked in to a stunning display of lit candles on the tree. It was a holy light. It was the start of the Twelve Holy Nights. We were calm, quiet, solemn, reverent. I was always in awe of the day. It was magical. We sat around the tree, on the buffalo fur, large straw matts, and wool rugs. We sang many German Christmas carols, listened to an appropriate excerpt from the bible, and then eventually took turns opening gifts and eating from our German paper plates that we reused year after year. I still have mine. Homemade and imported cookies and cakes, a few chocolates, and a mandarin orange each were neatly arranged on them. By now our Advent calendars had all twenty-four of their little doors and windows open. The large Advent wreath hung from the ceiling, all four red candles also lit. The wreath was always of balsam my mother had bound as part of her wreath-making business every year. The tree was usually a Balsam, some years a Noble, and once even a Ponderosa. Some time every November the family went into the woods between Koksilah and Port Renfrew to fill the VW bus to the ceiling with greenery, returning once more mid-December for the tree. My father knew the woods intimately as he was a BCFP forestry crew boss and tree planter. It was cold, hard work in rain or snow, but looking back, a series of memorable adventures. The tree carried thirty-three candles clamped carefully to the branches with silver holders, deep red paper roses, some apples, and the zodiac and star symbols in gold paint on thin jigsawed wood, arranged in a spiritually-significant pattern as indicated by Rudolf Steiner. Years later in my teens I slowly understood the significance of all this. An excellent series of Christmas lectures by Steiner are worth a study. And in all the years we never had a single fire with either the tree or the wreath.

One year, 1971, I believe, I remember seeing—my brother and sister too—the Northern Lights, the beautiful Aurora borealis, so far south as Duncan, snow outside as we three looked out into the dark world, waiting for the door to be unlocked. Once, we also tried looking through the keyhole but it was wisely plugged, likely with a tuft of cotton ball.

I did not grow up with the tradition of Santa Claus. This fat fellow has always been a stranger to me. And now I can not get past the idea that his modern incarnation is a marketing scam cooked up by Coca Cola sometime early in the 20th century. Remember those old, colourful Coke ads in the National Geographic magazines, particularly the issues between the two World Wars? Santa was and is as foreign to me as the black and white photos of the naked African women the magazine was famous for.

My childhood image of Christmas was always the little child Jesus with long golden curls, walking in a wool night shirt and barefoot through the snow, oblivious to the cold, wearing a halo and bathed in a golden light and aura.

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