Wispy white flakes fall softly, creating a pristine blanket on the ground outside my window. Pavarotti singing, Oh Holy Night, adds to the ambiance. I’m reminded that the timelessness of Christmas lies in God’s gift to mankind and celebrating this real meaning of the season, is what adds sparkle to the traditions and delight upon the first fall of snow. I fondly remember the previous Yuletide, and the wonder of celebrating Christmas with my new family, at the colony to which I had recently moved.
Amid the preparations and festivities of that Christmas, the first rumbles of a deadly virus in China reached Canada. That’s half a world away, I mused, so the grim news did not put a damper on this special time – I enjoyed every aspect, the preparations as much as the family and communal celebrations. Although there were melancholy moments when my mind meandered home, especially to my mom and her frugal ways. “Dos Papier schlogn mir nuch long nit weck!” she admonishes, when we want to discard the gift wrapping on Christmas Eve.
After getting married and moving, I was looking forward to experiencing Christmas in my new community. Back home, I had worked in the school, so I was especially anticipating the school Christmas concert. There was a good mix of German and English plays, music recitals and choir singing. I enjoyed the entire concert, but my favourite was the high school choir. It was evident how much work went into their pieces; every number was performed beautifully – I could close my eyes and envision angels singing, Can You Hear the Christmas Bells?
Another special event has the whole community participating in the manger scene on a frigid Heilig Abend, Christmas Eve. After meeting the Magi at the communal dining room, angels led us to a barn. On the way, we huddled around a fire to sing with the shepherds. Finally, we all gathered in a chilly barn, where Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus were surrounded by a “multitude of angels”. While everybody was settling down on straw bales, sheep and goats were bleating from their pens, adding to the realism already present. Soon we filled the little stable with numerous favourite German and English Christmas songs. The sweet, familiar blend of the whole community of young and old voices singing, Oh, Beautiful Star of Bethlehem brought tears of joy and gratitude.
Early in the New Year, when news of the raging virus in Europe reached us, it was still hard to fathom that it would leave such a devastating trail around the world. It seemed farfetched to think it would ever arrive on our shores. Nevertheless, in late January the virus arrived in Ontario and also in Quebec. Just two months later, it reached our province. Like most concerned citizens, we limited travel, stayed home, sterilized surfaces and hand-washed regularly. As we churned out thousands of masks, to supply two killing plants, I still hoped that the seclusion of living in a Hutterite community and “adhering to the fundamentals” would help keep us safe. That wish was not to be: August found us juggling garden work and sewing masks for ourselves, as some of us caught the virus.
Being in quarantine provided ample time to fret and wonder how long COVID would plague us. Thankfully, that too passed and everybody recovered. Our spirits were especially lifted when heaps of care packages from various businesses and individuals in neighbouring communities were delivered to our parcel drop-off trailer. Among the everyday household necessities like hygiene items and cleaners, there were particularly thoughtful ones like books and crafts for children! Sometimes good Samaritans bring “peace and goodwill” when it is least expected!
Now, as we stand on the threshold of another Christmas season, I’m trying to envision how different it might be. Given the increasing cases in Manitoba, we’ll likely be compelled to return to more restrictions. Although we’ll miss attending concerts, singing at communal meals and other get-togethers, I imagine the ordinary Christmas activities will be more meaningful this year. Gathering virtually to hear and reflect on the Christmas story will serve as a reminder to treasure the gift of worshiping in church with our fellow beleivers. With strictly limited visits in recent months, we’ll have a new appreciation for family celebrations. Having a friend drop in for coffee, cookies and face-to-face conversation will be as sweet as traditional dark fruit cake, fig bars and Pfeffernüsse. Each Christmas card sent and received, will be a poignant reminder of loved ones still with us. And the lovely strains of Der Friedensfürst, will resonate peace, love and joy like never before – a soothing balm our corona-weary hearts so desperately need.
Seid fröhlich alle Völker
Und singet Freudenlieder,
Bringt Ehre und Anbetung, Ihm,
Dem Friedensfürsten dar.
Singt Hosianna, singt Hosianna,
Hosianna bringt dem Gotteslamm.
C. E. Leslie