Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


On the wings of the season


Maria Gern Kapelle – Photo: David Campbell / GBC Tours

Two years ago, I reconnected with Christmas in the place where its spirit first came to life for me. It flooded back in soul-delicious waves of experience that evoked my sweetest childhood memories.

Early on the morning of Dec. 6, St. Niklaus Day in much of Europe, I was up early in darkness to catch a train north from where I was staying near the Austrian border. I opened my hotel-room door to find a gift sack filled with an orange, apple, nuts in their shells, a tall chocolate “Christmas Man”, and other foil-wrapped chocolates. The night before, as I’d listened to bells tolling from a nearby church, I’d recalled finding my shoes filled just this way as a child. What angel had done this now?


Madonna, St. Lorenz Kirche, Nürnberg.

Between trains in Nürmberg a little later, I stood inside St. Lorenz Church captivated by the Madonna pictured here. The people of this city, situated at a crossroads on ancient trade routes, have a reputation for being at ease with the world, and with themselves, and a down-to-earth sensibility. This Mother and Child feel so real, for me, as they look into each other’s eyes. I love Mary’s expression, and the way cherubic Jesus is playing with his tiny foot, the way every baby does. In Germany, the story of the Christ child remains at the heart of Christmas, and this sculpture captures the heart of that, for me. Do click on the photo so you can see the full postcard-sized image. In fact, you get an even more intriguing view of the church above if you do the same.

In the streets outside, the city’s annual Christkindlmarkt had taken over the market square. Travel-writer Rick Steves recently filmed new additions to his television series there and has generously posted clips online. Have a look at this one, a delightful taste of Christmas in Germany, and learn about the Christkind angel, another beautiful part of the holiday traditions there:

As Rick observes, it’s a sweet, metaphorical invitation to awareness when this golden angel tells children, “If you’re very, very gentle, you can touch my wings.”

Finally, just after sunset on December 24, I had the chance to remember why that iconic carol, “Stille Nacht”, means SILENT night. That is exactly what arrives as the day departs, the most enormous and beautiful silence. As I listened from my friends’ balcony, way up near the North Sea, it felt, on this night that begins the season of Christmas’s 12 days in Germany, as if everyone was home, in houses lit by golden candle light in soft darkness, and that all other activity had ceased.

Completely. In honor of the holy night.


Stille Nacht Memorial Chapel, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria.

The genuine sound of silence. I remembered that Mother and Child, tender and mild, back in Nürmberg. Sleep in heavenly peace.