They are anticipating good things.
The children look excited and eager. Two of them are waiting at the door, watching, listening, looking for a shadow on the window curtains. Their mother is sitting behind them, waiting too. One arm curves lovingly around her eldest daughter. She is listening, face turned toward her, to what the little girl is saying as she points at the door. Only the baby lying across his mother’s lap looks peacefully unaware.
Books and toys lie discarded on the wooden floor. A soft light filters through the curtains on the door’s window, another shines somewhere inside, out of sight. The children and their mother are caught in the circle of warm light they create, as if in the spotlight on a stage.
There is a sense of warmth and depth in the half-lit interior. Polished wood glows. The light picks out small details against the shadows. The fabric of their mother’s sleeve gleams rich and warm.
No wonder they are eager. It is Christmas Eve. They are waiting for the Christmas tree to arrive, and with it the start of the Christmas celebrations.
Their Christmas was both like and not like the one we know now. Ferdinand Theodor Hildebrandt painted this scene in nineteenth century Germany, where Christmas arrived on Christmas Eve. The tree was cut, brought home and decorated. There was carol singing, and there were gifts to be exchanged and opened. There was a traditional Christmas meal – including carp and potatoes. The Christmas church service took place at midnight. And then there followed two days of holidays, days filled with food and family time.
Hildebrandt used his considerable skills in portraying people, using color and setting scenes to create the sense of anticipation we and they feel. We are pulled in by the details and by the way the scene is presented. The children are leaning forward, pointing, looking – we see their impatience and anticipation in each gesture, in the way they stand. We wait with them, eager to see what will come through the door. It’s a beautiful scene, warm and loving.