Tag Archives: Christmas

A Christmas Wish

Margaret Mair, World in our Hands, Christmas 2011, Original Art

Margaret Mair, World in our Hands, Christmas 2011, Original Art

Christmas is approaching fast. This is a time of the year that’s full of expectations, anticipation – and memories.

The ghosts of Christmas past hover in the background. They bring me memories of family traditions, of gatherings and parties and songs and meals and early morning church services. They remind me of family and friends no longer here, help me see the differences in those who are here now.  They show me how those I love have grown and changed over the years.

These ghosts remind me of joys and of challenges faced.  And they make me think about this:  just as each day is a new opportunity, each Christmas is another chance to seize what is best in the season. Another chance to make the best of what we have, enjoy what we are given and share with others.

Not everyone celebrates Christmas. But that doesn’t mean they don’t or can’t share what is good about the season. In the north, when days grow short, any occasion to get together and share light, food and companionship helps people feel better. In fact, wherever people gather in love and friendship it helps make the world a happier place.

So that’s my wish for you this season – may you enjoy good company, good food, good times.

May your world be happy, and you be happy in it.

Margaret Mair, Christmas Image, 2011

The Heart of Christmas

Guido Reni, Adoration of the Shepherds, Detail.

Guido Reni, Adoration of the Shepherds, Detail

We are being invited to see where Christmas began.

It’s part of a larger painting.  The baby Jesus lies in a manger.  He is lying quietly, gazing at those around him, naked body glowing with an ethereal light.  The glow illuminates the shepherds with their weathered faces and work-scarred hands and the serene face of his mother Mary.

She leans over him, hands coming together as if to pray.  She is clothed in red, cloaked in blue, head covered in white.  The red of her dress symbolizes the presence of the holy spirit; the blue of her cloak symbolizes heavenly grace; the white of her head covering indicates her virginity and purity.

The faces hovering over the baby Jesus are amazed, wondering.  They lean into his light out of the surrounding darkness.

Guido Reni painted this adoration of the baby Jesus by shepherds for the monks of Saint Martin’s Charterhouse in Naples.  The beauty of the scene reflects the beauty of the story it tells.  It must have helped to inspire and comfort them as they went about their daily lives.

It’s a picture that reflects the heart of Christmas and the beginning of all they believed in.

Beautiful Anticipation

Ferdinand Theodor Hildebrandt, Children Anticipating the Christmas Tree

Ferdinand Theodor Hildebrandt, Children Anticipating the Christmas Tree

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.

Anticipation shared.

Cutting the Christmas Tree

Franz Krüger, Vorweihnacht, Before Christmas

Franz Krüger, Vorweihnacht, Before Christmas

It feels like a tradition that stretches back into the depths of the past.  The warmly dressed father stands, axe in hand, looking at the fir tree he has just cut.  It’s nicely shaped, branches touched with snow, not too big.  The dog looks on, curious and alert.  His son is stepping forward, holding the ropes of a sled in one hand, a staff in the other. They’ve walked here; now they will use the sled to pull the tree home.

There is no sign of a path – we see tussocky snow-covered ground all around them.  Stands of trees are softly and mistily lit.  Bare-branched trees mingle with evergreens.  The sky suggests a setting sun.  Maybe they are here on Christmas Eve, cutting a Christmas tree to take home for the family to decorate.

There is a feeling of happy anticipation.  Franz Krüger painted it when Germany was enjoying a period of peace and prosperity.  And so was he, a famous and popular portrait painter, with connections to the Prussian royal family and, through them, to the Russian Imperial house.  He worked steadily, painting works commissioned by members of the courts, portraits and scenes like these.  Perhaps that’s where that sense of peace, prosperity and pleasant anticipation comes from.

By the time he created this painting the tradition of bringing home a Christmas tree was only a few centuries old.  It began in the 16th century in Germany, when the fir tree became a symbol of the Christian religion; he painted this picture  in the 19th century.

Since then the Christmas tree has spread, become and remained a tradition for many, all over the world.  Even where no-one goes out in the snow to cut their own, the tree has become a special symbol.

As it did then, it stands for hope, celebration and good times shared with family and friends.

Seeing Christmas Differently

Hans Baluschek, At the Christmas Tree Sale, 1930

Hans Baluschek, At the Christmas Tree Sale, 1930

We know it’s Christmas.  But this doesn’t look like a typical Christmas scene.

The woman in the lumpy red coat is clutching what looks like the top of a Christmas tree.  Perhaps it is all she can afford. Her black hat is pulled down over her forehead, her thin legs and short boots stick out below her coat. Her nose is red from the cold, her lips curve downward; compared to the man selling trees she looks dour and small.  Her spindly bit of  Christmas tree contrasts with the tall, full trees leaning against the building wall.   They contrast with the leafless, living trees behind the fence, beside the store.

The Christmas tree seller stands in front of his trees.  He looks – kind?  He’s warmly dressed too, britches, heavy socks, boots, a coat reaching past his hips.  His coat is  long enough for him to stick his hands comfortably into the pockets.  His axe, perhaps just used, sticks out from one side.  His hat sits crumpled on his head.

The snow around them is well trodden.  On the pavement, further from us, a well-dressed man and girl, father and daughter perhaps, walk past a store that sells exotic fruit.  Bags and packages dangle from the father’s hand; he wears his hat at a jaunty angle, hiding his eyes.  His head is turned toward us, his body leans toward his daughter as if to shield her.   A chimney belches smoke above them; the sky is full of smoky clouds.

It’s Christmas time in Germany in 1930 and Hans Baluschek was painting what he saw.  What he saw was a Christmas divided – divided between well-off and poor, between people of different beliefs, between traditions rooted in the country and life in the city, between the green of trees and the smoke of industry.   We see the trappings of Christmas – the trees, the packages, the winter snow.  What we do not see is the anticipation of happiness.

Why present a Christmas scene this way?  The son of a railway engineer, Beluschek had studied art in Berlin as a young man and lived there still.  He saw the changing, industrializing city and found it dehumanizing.  He lived through World War I and felt and saw disquieting political changes happening in Germany as World War II approached.

Here we see how his experience and ideas combined with his understanding of working class life and his desire to show their world. This is Christmas from a different perspective, not what we think of as a typical Christmas scene.

But we can still hope that having that little tree brought joy to the woman clutching it.