December 23, 1987 my guest column for Uncle Bo Whaley
Mariet Vedder remembers childhood Christmas in Holland
(Editor's note: Today's special Christmas column was written by Mariet Vedder, a native of Holland, who has lived in Dublin for the past four years with her husband, Pieter, vice president, Fresh Produce Division (Mushrooms), an affiliate of Campbell's Soup Co. (CAMSCO). The Vedders travel extensively throughout the world in order for Mr. Vedder to lecture at various seminars inasmuch as he is recognized as one of the world's leading authorities on mushrooms).
At times, like now, I pause to consider the true meaning of Christmas. Are we still celebrating Jesus' birthday as one big Christian family? Or has it been transformed into one big commercial happening?
In my native Holland, we would not decorate (trim) our Christmas tree until a few days before Christmas, then maintain it until Epiphany (January 6, observed as a churchtain festival in commemoration of the coming of the three wise men to Jesus at Bethlehem).
Our Christian season began on the evening of December 24th, walking through a layer of snow, most often, to our church for the celebration of Midnight Mass. A freezing night with a clear sky, filled with lots of stars, belonged to this season ⏤ like Baby Jesus and the angels. It was so quiet, so peaceful, with everything and everybody waiting to celebrate another birthday of the Savior.
I remember that as we neared the church and heard the inviting voices of the choir, our pace quickened, and once inside we hurried to get a glimpse of the nativity scene. The aroma of burning candles, coupled with the joyful singing, completed the setting and afforded a sense of strength and unity, like one big family with a common goal: Peace on earth and love that came with the birth of Jesus.
After Church, families would gather for a great dinner, similar to the American Thanksgiving. This would be repeated the next day, the so-called Second Christmas Day.
Some memories are somewhat nostalgic, therefore not every Christmas was so peaceful. One of the strongest and most lasting impressions regarding Christmas for my husband Pieter, came on Christmas Day, 1944, near the end of World War II, when he was 15. (Pieter with his middle brother were evacuated at a farmstead away from home, parents and oldest brother elsewhere).
Accompanied by his older brother, they left night mass and were walking home when they saw a blaze behind a low hill. Being curious, as boys tend to be, they walked briskly toward the flames were coming from an airplane that had just been shot down. The light from the blaze illuminated the surrounding area sufficiently for the two youngsters to see a human arm and hand hanging in the barbed wire encircling a meadow.
This experience was so shocking for the boys, having just moments before left mass with peace on their minds Christmas night only to be confronted with such a cruelty ⏤ evidence of the ravages of war and human conflict...
Living now at home in Dublin, Georgia/USA, far a way from Holland, Christmas for me is, of course, different. The religious meaning is the same, but I miss the closeness of my family at this special time of year. My biggest joy comes from sending and receiving all the Christmas cards. All hose relatives and freidns who think aobut you... write a personal note, wishing the best for the New Year. And it really is a moving experience when, for example, I hold Christmas cards received from behind the Iron Curtain or South Africa in my hands and realize that Christian feelings are alive all over the world, despite the many different philosophies.
We receive Christmas cards from friends in exotic countries where my husband and I have visited, such as Indonesia, Singapore, India, China and Japan. While the cards are different in design, the spirit in which they are sent is the same ⏤ that of love and peace.
Last year was a very special Christmas for Pieter and me. We celebrated it in Indonesia, on the islands of Java and Bali. On Christmas Eve we attended night mass in the city of Wonosobo, on the island of Java. The church was decorated in a most heavenly way, with amaryllis and orchids! It was like being in paradise what with all the exotic fragrances, beautiful people in their 'sarongs' (the traditional Javanese costume) and with that special gleam in their eyes radiating love faith and true Christianity.
Mass started with a ceremony performed by about a dozen beautiful young girls between the ages of eight and fourteen, lined up in two rows, wearing gorgeous sarongs and barefooted. One held a doll, depicting the new born baby, Jesus. The others strew flower petals while dancing slowly to the altar, bringing Jesus to his manger. They did have the universal nativity scene. Just the music, the choir and the formal dancing was so unusual to us westerners.
The entire service of two hours, including a sermon, was very dignified. Although we could not pray or sing with the natives, it was not boring.
When communion was given, the long line never ended; many stood outside and followed the mass through special loudspeakers. It was overwhelming to witness such attendance. After mass, out in the streets where traffic is prohibited during sermons to ensure quietness, the scene resembled a standing reception. We never shook so many hands in our lives! All the priests were outside, too. Everybody wishing one another a Merry Christmas. It was a deeply moving experience, the most impressive Christmas ever.
From Indonesia, we moved on to Singapore where we stayed for two days. It is a clean and modern state, still decorated for the Christmas season at the end of December. There were no Christmas trees but the naive tropical trees were decorated and lit up. Beautiful plain white lights spanned the main streets and shops carried out the spirit of Christmas.
From Singapore we traveled on to Holland, arriving on New Year's Eve.
...Fond memories of less commercial Christmas
The Christmas tree at my parent's home was still set up, adding to an old fashioned 'long' holiday season that did not end abruptly on December 26 like here in the United States, but lasted until the Solemnity of Epiphany in early January.
The Christmas season should not die the moment one opens his presents; rather, we should live on in its spirit a bit longer.
Thought For Today: 'Peace is not a Christmas gift, but a task.' ~Unknown.