Posted by: Nazausgraben | January 4, 2022

FROM NOW UNTIL CANDLEMAS

*Christmas celebrations do not cease on the 25th, for festivities throughout Austria and Bavaria continued on St. Stephen’s Day (the 26th) and thereafter. Although the entire Christmas ‘octave’ continues until Epiphany on 6 Jan., the feast of the Three Kings, most here keep their trees decorated and nativity scenes (Krippe) up until the 2nd of February (Maria Lichtmess in German, Candlemas in English).

For it is from Christmas Day until Candlemas that it is customary to visit the homes of friends and relatives to admire the Krippe (see also my post of Dec. 2018). Many are beautifully built by their owners, with some of the largest having 100s of figures. The unfortunately somewhat out-of-focus photo below shows such a Krippe built by a neighbor that almost fills an entire room! Ours is quite modest in comparison, but includes carved wooden figures and a stall that have been in the family for more than 40 years.

The tradition of walking from house to house (as you will soon understand, walking is critical here) to visit these Krippe is wonderful, but abit of a challenge. You see, with each visit, you are offered freshly baked Christmas cookies and are handed a small glass filled with potent Schnapps…the so-called ‘Krippe Glory Water’ (Gloria Wasser).

Now, it is generally not good form to decline an invitation to imbibe this celebratory offering, and as an American, I would not risk inciting an international incident by uttering even the most polite refusal.  I can tell you, however, that after the 3rd or 4th house visit, the collective effects of Gloria Wasser tend to make one’s desire to admire yet another Krippe decidedly reduced; so much so that you may at this juncture elect to call it a night (for it will indeed be pitch outside by that time) and wend your way as best as possible across the frozen farmer’s fields back toward home. In this regard, the Christmas lights lining the balcony take on the even more important role as beacons by which you can guide your decidedly less stable legs back to the comforting sanctuary of your own front door and the welcoming warmth within.

May your own Christmastide and thereafter to Candlemas continue to remain filled with the joy and beauty of this most blessed season.

Posted by: Nazausgraben | December 24, 2021

SWEET SACRAMENT

I believe it was Einstein who once noted that “the only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once”.  Yet, it is during Christmastide every rolling year that time indeed seems to catch its breath; to pause in expectancy, listening for the advent of an event that has changed the course of the world now for more than 2000 years. Then, with the passing of an ever frigid winter’s eve, the towering alpine ranges, the vast sweeping stretches of snow bedecked farmer’s fields, the ancient villages and towns dotting both valley and high alpine plateaus…all come alight, for now it is Christmas and the otherwise wayward world and mankind’s time alike suddenly become ever so changed – animated in unbounded joyful celebration.

You note it in the transformed visage of the normally morose neighbor whose concrete grimace and grunted acknowledgements remarkably transmogrify on 25 December to an almost overwhelming 24-hour ear-to-ear Merry Christmas smile and greetings to all who might pass by. You see it as Christmas morning breakfasts where children’s famished exuberance is muffled only by the shoveling of copious quantities of anything sweet that can be coated onto fresh slabs of already thickly buttered bread. You hear it in the uplifting sermons and Knabenchöre, Mozarting their ways through the Christmas day liturgy being broadcast from Vienna. You wonder at it as gifts are left by neighbors making their rounds from friend to friend, quietly leaving small packages attached to entryway door knobs. Within these treats, one will discover a treasure of freshly backed candy coating inscribed Lebkuchen hearts, or perhaps fruit and nut breads called ‘Zelten’, or even slices of just-out-of-the-oven Christstollen – a raisin bread covered with a thick layer of sugar. With luck, one may also find a minuscule handmade nativity scene, tucked into a half walnut shell.

After Christmas Day Mass, you may find yourself at home, with family and a few friends, engaged in a holiday ‘Frühschoppen’, where you will pass around the painted porcelain Christmas cookie jar and devour handfuls of vanilla crescents, small marmalade filled ‘Linzer Augen’, buttery bite-sized cubes of layer cake, extra-sweet sugared rum balls and chocolates of various shapes and sizes. All of this is washed down with hot spiced ‘Glühwein’, coffee, tea or (as is usually the case) a Kaiser beer (or two).

Then, at noon, the guests depart and the table is prepared for a late afternoon meal. Christmas day repast may take the form of a roast turkey, ham or various cuts of cooked meats, accompanied by a host of potato dishes (served hot or cold) of all stripes, vegetables, gravies, stuffings, salads. All of this is topped off by even more sweets, possibly thick, creamy cakes, more Zelten or Stollen, puddings and liquid refreshments of all types (again, hot or cold). Invariably, table talk will thereafter continue (from where it left off prior to the serving of the first course) until the evening turns purple outside. The men will open their collars, loosen their ties and discreetly notch back their belts a hole or two. Should the table talk regrettably turn to a topic of heated dispute, the ladies will use that as a cue to gather the dinnerware and recess to a safe place in the Stuben, a thick wall’s no man’s land away from the voices in the next room, now raised in a zealous and at times fevered passion regarding something to do with a pandemic and politicians.

After some time, there will be a decrescendo as the labored diatribes revert to civilized discourse and, eventually, long periods of quiet, disturbed on occasion by sotto voce noises suggestive of ongoing digestion. The thoroughly exhausted host and/or hostess of the feast will ask all to return to the table and will inquire as to whether or not anyone would like something more to eat or drink, desperately hoping…praying…that all will answer ‘no’ and in doing so take notice of the late hour. With the departure of the final guest, the host and hostess will retreat to the Stuben, fall onto the deep, warm sofa, and toast a most wonderful Christmas Day. A gift or two from their guests may be opened, but most will wait until after Mass the next morning, the celebration of St. Steven’s Day.

So it is that Susi and I will celebrate our 21st Christmas together and with our family and friends here in Pinswang. On Christmas day evening I will conduct a vocal quartet and trio of woodwinds before and during Mass at the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in nearby Breitenwang. Then on 28 December our children and grandchildren will all make their ways over the Fernpaß – the well-traveled alpine mountain pass separating the Inn valley with the Tirolean Außerfern, to spend a day celebrating Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa. Susi will prepare what will, I am certain, prove to be a splendid feast and, weather permitting, we’ll thereafter head out to the Alpine slopes across from our yard with sleds in hand. We shall definitely eschew the after-dinner debates. I will, however, again bring to mind how blessed we are to be together with family and friends, for this most joyful celebration.

Now, as I finish this narrative, it is abit after 0200….it is Heiligabend, Christmas Eve. Looking out a window, knowing that just outside in the pitch, it is a freezing snowy night and my thoughts turn to a similar night so very long ago as described by an unknown medieval poet and later set to music by a host of composers:

“A spotless Rose is blowing

Sprung from a tender root,

Of ancient seers’ foreshowing,

Of Jesse promised fruit;

Its fairest bud unfolds to light

Amid the cold, cold winter

And in the dark midnight.

The Rose which I am singing,

Whereof Isaiah said,

Is from its sweet root springing

In Mary, purest Maid;

For through our God’s great love and might

The blessed babe she bare us

In a cold, cold winter’s night”.

As we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord, may I send you, dear readers and friends, best wishes for a most joyous, healthy and blessed Christmas season!

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