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"Wenn es draussen scheppert und pumpert, steht's Christkind da mit lauter Klumpert -
When at the door it goes clink, clank and then clunk, you know it's Santa with all the junk."
(Uncle’s favourite Christmas rhyme, 2008)
So this was... X-Mas
In one way Christmas is a nice tradition, a festival to shorten those long, cold winter nights. In another it is so much more. Over the years we have exchanged many Christmas wishes and spent many Christmas holidays. Some may have been happier, others not so good, people just usually don't admit it. The younger you are, the better those moments are, usually. Speaking of the fascination of childhood, the sparkly eyes with awe awaiting the decorated Christmas tree and the big moment, the Holy Eve or the Christmas Morning. And not forgetting the long sigh of relief by the adults, who are tired of preparations for what is supposed to be the best time of the year and tend to have the one or other Christmas argument.
We'd like to wish you all very Merry Christmas and an exceptional New Year 2013... especially to those of you, who are going through hard times!
A reoccurring challenge is the creation of a family Christmas card. Sometimes there is inspiration, in other years nothing new comes to mind. How do you spend the quiet season that is nowadays filled with the noise of overcrowded shopping malls and loud Christmas music jingling through the air, but also full of the smell of freshly made Christmas cookies and the anticipation of weight gain?
Do you ever reflect on the true meaning of the birth of a saviour for the world in the very religious context? A long time ago an uncle of mine had been asked at school about the meaning of Christmas. Following his answer that it was about getting presents, the religion teacher slapped him. Today, the same would not be possible any more. But how many of us would need a re-orientation to the essence, stripped of all the superficial glitter, hard-nosed career hunting and self-imposed hectic?
In times of a game consoles called X-Box, the most mysterious and supernatural TV show called X-Files, a group of gifted youngsters with "extra" powers called the X-Men and a XXXL at the beginning of the name of a mega-size furniture store, there is one more word starting with the same letter: X-Mas is a most common abbreviation of Christmas.
The second part of X-Mas is simply derived from the word "mass," describing the church service. As for the first part, it appears that the letter "X" or "Chi" in the Greek alphabet is the first letter of "Christ" or "Khristos," meaning the anointed one. In the old days, pharaohs, monarchs and kings were covered with perfumed oil to symbolize divine influence on the chosen one.
While X-Mas goes easier over the lips than the full word, containing the name of the saviour, it is often erroneously believed that the term is a result of progressing secularization. It is true that Santa Clause takes over and also we like to wear those red hats and get bigger and bigger, but let us once more remind ourselves and others of that re-orientation, which has to occur once in a while. Let us re-focus on the truly important so that is not lost among all the accessories that at first decorate and embellish a thing, but then slowly overshadow it more and more until they have overtaken it completely. Which values do you consider worth protecting? What would you fight for?
Here we go again... living in our little snow globe. Winter time and Christmas time is here, another year passed by and this time we almost couldn't think of a new Christmas motif for our family picture. This one was shot right in our backyard.
"Now that is one big snow globe", was one comment received on our Christmas picture of the kids in the snow globe. A friend, who visited us the day after Christmas, thought that it was a funny coincidence. Then he told us about his latest discovery... Practically around the corner from where I had been living years ago, he had recently detected the small Vienna Snow Globe Museum. The owner would be the grandson of the manufacturer, who in the year 1900 had invented the very first snow globe, based on a design of the Basilica of Maria Zell, a pilgrimage church in the province of Styria in the south of Austria. The museum shop would even mail snow globes (on a smaller scale though than Hotel Sacher mailing chocolate cakes), except for in winter, as the water inside might freeze and break the glass ball. Ever since, snow globes have brought joy to millions of people, they represent childhood memories and are sought after by collectors all over the world. And some people, very few though, even use them for their Christmas picture.
A comment we received in response to above picture, says it all: "Jetzt weiss ich endlich, wie österreichische Nikoläuse aussehen - Now I finally know, how Austrian Santas look like!" Although we are fans of the Christkind, really.
A Chritmas tree and a good old rocking horse, what else do you need for happiness in life? Gold or silver tinsel is said to represent icicles on the tree. Anyway, all that glitters is not gold. Lit candles and meringue in the hair help to create magical moments.
"Silent Night, Holy Night" is probably the most popular Christmas song world wide. It was composed by a priest in Salzburg, Austria, and then translated into all languages. My grandfather used to tell a story from an extraordinary experience during the Second World War. On Christmas Eve the shooting would suddenly stop and voices from both sides of the front line joined each other to sing "Silent Night, Holy Night." Just as we gather under the Christmas tree to sing the same song. These days we may not find ourselves in lethal combat but in daily struggle with handling expectations, obligations and pressure imposed on us. At one time or another we may all become victims of the ultimate paradox: One only learns to value what he has got, when he doesn't have it any more. This is true for many situations in life, where disappointment may temporarily overshadow our view on advantages of the status quo and high-raging emotions may lead to ill-advised decisions. Then we better recap what we have achieved already - without painting too black a picture of our current situation - and what we should still strive for, really and realistically. At the same time we should not forget those, who are no so well off and may not have the same choices and chances available.
"Meine Tante sagte immer: Das Leben ist wie meine Vanillekipferln - hart."
"My aunt always said: Life is like my home-made Christmas cookies - tough."
(Radio announcement about parallels among life and vanilla flavoured sand tarts)
Christmas is a good time of the year to think of others, especially to remember those, whose gift table is not filled to the rim. If we are blessed simply by being born into a wealthy society, if we understand that finding favourable starting conditions at the beginning of our life is not our own achievement nor any reward we have truly deserved, we may open our hearts also to those, who need our help to survive under much less fortunate circumstances. Putting oneself into the service of the community can turn into something remarkable. Such has been the lifework of the Austrian Hermann Gmeiner, founder of SOS Children's Villages, which have evolved to the world's largest orphan charity. SOS in this context stands for "societas socialis," which is Latin for "social society" or "caring congregation." Nobel prize winner Albert Schweitzer would describe them as the "friendliest miracle of the post war era." What do we do, if someone sends out a SOS call? Do we pretend not hearing the distress signal or do we come for help? Maybe later on, when we are in need and send an S.O.S. to the world, that "Message in a Bottle" the music group Police sang of, someone will come to save our ship, or our souls. Or maybe we should just help without hoping for anything in return.
As for the initially mentioned x-mas card, obviously, we had tried similar ideas earlier and like to refer to these attempts by the catch line: You can leave your hat on! You can find pictures from those days under Parallels.