Our childhood returns to us through our children—especially in the season of Advent.
As I witness my sons’ delight at the first December snowfall, their eagerness to pry open the windows of the Advent calendar (sometimes all 25 in one day!), their busy hands decorating cookies and gingerbread, their unexpected stillness around a candle, then I am transported back to my own childhood in East Germany and to the wonder of expectation.
Wonder is in many ways easier, perhaps more natural, for a child because so much of its world is shrouded in mystery. The planning and preparations, all the behind-the-scenes work that makes Christmas special, are beyond the child’s awareness.
My parents typically decorated the house after my brothers and I had gone to bed, so that when we awoke the next morning, the familiar spaces of home would be magically transformed. Old wooden angels with wings as fragile as rice paper, ornate candelabras, music boxes, wreaths, lacquered Räuchermänner sending plumes of incense into the air, and the tree of course, festooned with straw stars and tinsel—all these wondrous items, vividly remembered from the previous year, would suddenly reappear and with them the realization that Christmas was indeed coming soon!
My favourite Christmas record proclaimed these tidings in the unerringly sweet voices of the Dresden Children’s Choir: “Bald nun ist Weihnachtszeit (Soon now is Christmas time).” The record sleeve featured a photograph of a wooden sled with curved runners like ram’s horns, abandoned in the snow outside a lamplit church. I would gaze endlessly on that image, imagining the child who left the sled behind, wondering when he or she would return. That sled and I, it seemed, were both waiting.
Waiting is, of course, an integral part of Advent, but for a child it is also typically the most difficult part. I was never particularly patient and neither, it turns out, are my boys. They wonder why, if the whole world is waiting for one day, we can’t just hasten the calendar along. Why light just one candle on the Advent wreath and leave the others untouched? Why do cookies and cakes have to wait for the arrival of guests? Why do gifts have to be wrapped at all and then, to make matters worse, stashed away in closets? Why do we pray for so long before eating our Christmas dinner? And why (this why most of all) must we sleep away the precious hours between Christmas Eve and Morning??…
I suppose it is the certainty of Christmas, its dependable warmth and fulfillment, that make waiting for it so difficult for a child. Yet for a parent this certainty—the assurance that we will be together as a family on Christmas Eve, that we will look back over the past year and see how God has managed all that concerns us, that we are indeed unspeakably loved—this is precisely what makes the waiting precious.
I know that I do not wait in darkness for the coming of the Saviour’s light. That light is even now all around me as it is all around you. Christ has already come to set us free and claim us as His own. And so, as we wait in this season of Advent to celebrate the gift of His light and life, that very gift sustains us not with wistful dreams merely, but with the assurance that “He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).
Markus Poetzsch lives in Waterloo, Ontario, with his wife, Jeni, and two boys, Samuel and Gabriel. He teaches English Literature at Wilfrid Laurier University and listens to Christmas music long before Advent. October is usually a good time to begin!