‘Tis a magical time of year when Advent arrives
along with sights, sounds and warm, spicy smells.
It never grows old as we watch the faces of
young children eagerly awaiting the arrival
of Santa. Letters and cards written.
Stockings hung and trees decorated.
Outdoor lights on as we wonder if
it will be a white one this year.
Customs and traditions vary from
country to country. Songs sung, cookies
baked; yet in our hearts, the same
sentiments remain. It’s a time for love.
As I entered my eighth grade classroom at the Härtsfeldschule in Neresheim, Germany, a comprehensive school serving some thirty surrounding communities, there was an audible hush. I was their visiting Fulbright Exchange Teacher from the United States for the year. What I saw was something very simple and beautiful: a wreath of fresh green fir branches fashioned in a wreath with a candle lit in the middle of my desk. Glancing around the room at thirty sets of eyes watching my every move, I realized that it was intended as a surprise celebration for me. After inquiring about this beautiful wreath, the class spokes person informed me that in Germany, the Advent Wreath had four candles, one for each Sunday before Christmas. They wanted me to feel at home in Germany. I smiled broadly and thanked them profusely.
Next, I explained why I could never have such a lovely surprise in an American classroom. Naturally they wanted to know. First of all, I explained that it would be considered a fire hazard in a US school to have a lit candle. Elaborating more, I informed them that we also had mandated fire drills annually during which all persons in the building had to exit to practice in the event of an actual fire. Smoke detectors and sprinklers would also activate during such an event.
On December 5, my children put one shoe outside their door as they eagerly awaited Nikolaus. They had learned at school about him. The next morning, if they had been good during the year, their shoe was filled with small presents, candy and fruit. We adopted this tradition and still carry it on today. Every year my husband purchases Christmas countdown calendars with a surprise behind each door. After dinner we enjoy finding the appropriate door and hidden chocolate behind it.
Sometimes I long for those days in my German classrooms when we shared traditions and cultures of each other’s countries. The closest I came to bringing my American students to Germany occurred during our two hour video conferences held twice annually. I knew that most of my students would never travel outside the US. I longed to broaden their horizons just as my parents did for all of us in the family. Three of us lived and studied abroad. All of my students have been encouraged over the years to go abroad and study and live in another country for at least one year. How else do we become tolerant individuals and respectful of other languages, cultures and peoples? The world is getting smaller as we become global citizens.
As we light the candle for the third Sunday of Advent, I am reminded fondly of my three years of study at the University of Heidelberg and two years as a Fulbright Teacher, the first time in Neresheim and the second time in Berlin. I have been a fortunate individual in life and pass on at every opportunity that we need tolerance, understanding and love in our world today. It is a magical time of the year.