The True Spirit of Weihnachten


Heidi carefully pulled open the little door marked December twelfth on the Weihnachten calendar and looked at the tiny painting of beautifully wrapped presents.

Only fourteen more days until Weihnachten, she thought. I wish time would hurry. She looked down at the doors on the Weihnachten calendar marked December twenty-fifth and wished hard.

“Heidi!” Frau Schroeder called, “Come. There is work to be done for the advents kranz ceremony tonight.”

Heidi smiled. Not everyone made such a ritual of the lighting of the advents kranz candles as her mama and vati did. Almost everyone in Germany had an advents kranz and lighted the candles, one each week until all four were lighted by Weihnachten, but not everyone had a ceremony.

“Heidi!” Frau Schroeder called again.

Ja, Mama.” Heidi answered, “I’m coming.”

Hurriedly she put on her apron and began to help with the baking.

“Mama,” she asked, “am I old enough to light one of the candles yet?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

“Every year Wolfgang or Gunther or Helga has lighted the last two candles, and never me, I don’t like being the youngest! Please, Mama, could I this year?”

“It is very special to light the advents kranz candles in this house. It is an honor you must earn,” Mama said.

“I know, but what must I do?”

“When you find that out, you will be old enough.”

What a strange answer, Heidi thought. But there was no more time for questions. There was much work to be done.

That night the entire family, including Oma and Opa Schroeder and Oma Schmidt, gathered in the living room. The beautiful pine bough kranz hung from the ceiling by four red satin ribbons that came together in a bow at the top. Between each ribbon stood a tall thin white candle.

Opa Schroeder lighted the first candle last week after he read the Bible story of Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem. Carefully he relighted the candle, and then Vati began this week’s ceremony.

Heidi listened as he told of how the baby Jesus was born in a stable. She knew the story by heart, but whenever Vati told it, the story seemed new and even more beautiful. Vati loved the story, and everyone who heard him could feel that love.

When he finished, Vati lighted the second candle and then they all ate cookies and little cakes and sang Weihnachten songs until it was time to go to bed.

All during the next week Heidi thought about what Mama had said. She wondered how she could earn the honor of lighting one of the last two candles. But there was not much time to wonder, for there was more baking and much work to be done for the holidays.

Next Sunday was the day that everyone had to participate in the advents kranz ceremony by doing something on the program. Heidi was going to sing her favorite Weihnachten carol, “Silent Night.” She practiced all week and memorized the words, thinking hard about the meaning so she could interpret the right feeling.

With so much to do, the time went fast and Sunday night was there before Heidi had time to think about who would be chosen to light the third candle. And besides, she was scared. Because she was the youngest, she would be first on the program.

Heidi was nervous as she waited for Opa to relight his candle and then for Vati to relight his. Vati started the program and called on Heidi.

Her knees seemed to shake and her hands were wet with perspiration, but she stood up straight next to Mama, who played the piano, and began to sing. “Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright …” Suddenly the fear left her as she forgot about her audience. She remembered only the story of Jesus’ birth, and from her heart she sang her feelings.

The song ended and Heidi felt warm and wonderful inside. But suddenly she noticed a deep silence in the room. What did I do wrong? she wondered.

“That was beautiful!” Vati whispered. “I’ve heard that carol sung many times. But you, Heidi, did more than sing it. You felt and loved it. Thank you.”

There was a pause. Vati looked at Opa and Opa nodded. Then Vati spoke again. “I don’t think we need to go further to find the one who should light the third candle. I think it is agreed that this year Heidi has the true spirit of Weihnachten.”

Vati lifted Heidi up and carefully she lighted the candle. But it wasn’t as she thought it would be. Singing the song had been the important thing, not lighting the candle. She sat back down in her seat and listened to the others present their parts on the program. Occasionally her eyes peeked at the candles on the advents kranz.

The true spirit of Weihnachten, she thought, is not Sankt Nikolaus, or the Weihnachten calendar, or putting my shoes out for treats, or presents, or even the advents kranz, but a baby in a stable on a silent holy night.

German definitions

Weihnachten

Vi - nok - ten

Christmas

Frau

frow

Mrs.

Vati

vah - tee

Father

kranz

krahnz

wreath

ja

yah

yes

Oma

O - ma

Grandma

Opa

O - pa

Grandpa

Sankt Nikolaus

Sahnkt Nee - ko - lahs

St. Nicholas

[illustrations] Illustrated by Jerry Thompson