As children we can’t wait for Christmas because we’ll be getting things. Now that I’m older I try to avoid the frenzy building up to the holiday, although I look forward to the vacation days that I’ll cash in to take time to be with family rather than business. It’s not that I don’t like holidays—it’s just I’m no fan of hype. Still, now that December is nearing, and Thanksgiving has reminded us that work isn’t everything, I can feel the anticipation. Yesterday I attended the Christkindlmarkt in Bethlehem. Amid the backdrop of the truly colossal, rusting stacks of the former Bethlehem Steel plant, this is a seasonal event with nothing but good spirit. People of all descriptions were crowded into the massive event, but rudeness and complaining were strangely absent. Everyone seemed to be having a good time.
When I worked at Nashotah House, the atmosphere for Advent was austere. We weren’t really encouraged to look forward to Christmas, bringing a tree home before the 24th was frowned upon. It was a time to reflect on our sins, not to anticipate our rewards. Still, I had a kind of epiphany among the secular crowds seeking to get into the spirit of things yesterday. Bethlehem is a city that has known hard times. Its industrial base eroded away, residents were left unemployed and wondering about a very (and increasingly) uncertain future. Recasting itself as the Christmas City is a way of throwing new light on a holiday famous for its commercialism.
Christmas can be about resurrection. It’s a season to think of birth. It matters not if the mother is a virgin or if the child is for an exclusive sect. People throng here for hope. Beauty in the midst of ruin. Some businesses clearly spend all year building up to Christmas, selling ornaments so delicate that I feared even to look too hard at them lest they shatter. Handcrafted goods that represent the livelihood of others who compel strangers that art is worth more than money itself. Wandering through the four tents of booths, the feeling of resurrection was palpable. We were all here seeking something. Loosening the grip on the wallet just a bit. Wanting to make others happy for a while. Birth is the symbol of hope. Advent, it seems, need not be a dreary season of wallowing in unworthiness, awaiting a mythology taken too literally. The proof of the goodness before us is just down the road in Bethlehem.