I sometimes feels I need to pause before launching back into my usual reflections. Commercialism tells me the holiday season is here (I noticed while watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade that the real highlight is Santa and the official start of Christmas). Please don’t misunderstand—I love the holiday season and look forward to it every year. It’s not that I want to get things or spend lots of money. For me the holidays are about rest and respite from the constant stream of work that never really gets done. I need to retreat once in a while. Ensconce myself in a quiet room and not have to worry about the next crisis facing me as an editor or the publishing industry as a whole. I do love the holidays, but I often wonder about how we’ve let their symbols become the main point.
Now that we live near “the Christmas City,” we attend the Christkindlmarkt in Bethlehem while family is home. One of the more stark symbols of this festival is the juxtaposition of a Christmas tree against the now silent and rusting steel stacks of what used to be Bethlehem Steel. The evergreen, of course, was a Teutonic symbol of life continuing in the midst of the shutdown of the growth season. Nature hasn’t really died, although it may appear to have done so, but we feel that difficult times with short days and cold temperatures will now dominate our existence. Our industrial efforts participate in this slowdown too. What once identified one of Pennsylvania’s two steel cities has ceased an Bethlehem has had to adapt. We see the change and wonder. I grew up just north of Pittsburgh when it was a very large industrial city. When I was in high school it was the 16th most populous city in the country. Currently it’s 66th, with Charlotte, North Carolina holding its former place. We adjust to changing seasons.
Christkindlmarkt is a lively place with four large tents dedicated to symbols of the season. Christmas merchandise is a large part of it, of course. Small business vendors, however, take advantage of the fact that crowds throng in. Food, naturally, comes to hold a place of some significance as your blood sugar drops after spending a few hours on your feet. Music is in the air and people don’t seem to mind the masses of others who all had the same idea. I never purchase much at the event, but I enjoy being among those inspired by it. Some of us are the rusty towers in the background, and others are the lively, decorated tree that stands before them. The season has begun, and the symbols are open for interpretation.