Every Sunday, Heribert Prantl, columnist and author of the SZ, deals with a topic that will be relevant in the coming week – and sometimes beyond. Here you can also order “Prantls Blick” as a weekly newsletter – exclusively with his personal reading recommendations.
Christmas was never that early. There are still six weeks until the first Advent and nine and a half weeks until Christmas Eve. But Christmas is already here – in politics, in companies, in the public order offices, in the health authorities too, of course. It’s all about Christmas. Christmas was already here this time when the gingerbread and chocolate Santa Clauses were put on the supermarket shelves, as always very early.
The great anticipation
It is not the great anticipation that makes Christmas the topic in October – it is the great anticipation. Christmas is made a hotspot festival by Corona and declared a hotspot festival by the corona fighters. Christmas is the topic in the Chancellor’s Corona conferences, it is the topic in the city administrations’ Corona meetings. It is the topic in the regulatory agencies because there the question marks behind the word and in front of the place “Christmas market” are painted ever larger. There are three thousand Christmas markets in Germany; the largest of these markets, the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt, attracts two million visitors every year. Does it have to be treated like the Oktoberfest in Munich?
How do you create closeness – despite the distance?
Christmas is the topic in the factories because the Christmas parties are canceled there. Christmas is the theme in the Christian churches, it is the theme in the meetings of the parishes. Where should the services be celebrated on Christmas Eve: in the houses of God at a distance and with very few people? Or in front of the church building in the cold? Or in the city park, in barns and warehouses, in gyms perhaps, in the drive-in cinema or at the quarry pond? Somehow distributed over all possible locations and places? How do you get close to Christmas – despite the distance?
How do the crib plays look like in the Corona year: classic, with a hostel search? And with a landlord who imperiously rejects Maria and Josef and possibly wears a white-blue diamond-patterned mouth and nose protection? Do you even have to edit the Christmas Gospel of Luke a little this year so that there is no laughter at the sentence “… because there was no room for them in the hostel”?
Open air Christmas
So how do you celebrate Christmas in Corona times? Much open air? Do Santa Clauses and Santa Clauses have to wear face masks under their fake beards? This is probably the smallest of all corona problems. But: The Santa Clauses, who go from family to family, will be counted as a risk group by the regulatory authorities. How much distance does Christmas need, how much distance can Christmas take? Perhaps Christmas will become a festival and an occasion when the general and great understanding of even nonsensical corona control measures ends? The inflationary issuing of travel warnings is one of them; and the jumble of do’s and don’ts that hardly anyone can remember and that change every week.
The lockdown at Easter has not yet been digested. Should he, will he repeat himself at Christmas? How quiet will the Silent Night be in 2020? It seems that in the churches it is not allowed to sing, not a verse, not even with a face mask. At best, the singing comes from the choir, and that too will be divided into small groups, which then alternately sing chorals. Otherwise you will rely on instrumental music, indoors and outdoors.
Back to the roots
Nonetheless, it looks like the churches are better prepared than they were at Easter. Bishops write letters of encouragement. Big city parishes want to hold short services every hour; The concept is called “instantaneous water heater”. Other parishes are thinking about Advent and Christmas processions and street devotions.
Many parishes feel free from having to do business as usual. This is partly the learning effect from the past few months. But that is also, so say pastors and committed laypeople, the strength that arises from the festival itself and its theological core: that it is about looking for shelter, about being threatened, fear and precarious existence. Open-air worship is something like back to the roots. Perhaps Christmas has never been closer to believing Christians.
The churches, politics
Indeed, it looks like the churches are better prepared than they were at Easter. It’s not politics. It has not properly processed and correctly evaluated the experiences from the lockdown in spring, it continues to operate with the instruments of that time, with bans, operating restrictions, contact and assembly restrictions; the legislature has remained rather mute, it has failed to provide general lines in the fight against the virus. The executive, i.e. government and administration, determines everything: the legal ordinances that restrict fundamental rights are multiplied; The basic question is “who in the constitutional state is authorized to make which decisions with which effects vis-à-vis the citizens, and how these decisions must be democratically legitimized and accountable for”, says Uwe Volkmann, Professor of Public Law and Legal Philosophy at the University of Frankfurt am Main.
Merkel’s Christmas present
This question is neither asked nor answered and is replaced by federal competitive actionism. This is not good. The rule of law is being replaced by corona psychology. Measures as sharp as possible in the run-up to Christmas – so that the sharpness can be loosened a little again at Christmas, as a Merkel-Söder Christmas present.
Two thousand years ago, as the Christmas legend says, shepherds were in the fields. Suddenly extremely threatening things happened. That is why the story says: “And they were very afraid.” This fear of the shepherds is usually neglected at Christmas. That will be different this year. And we will, more eagerly than usual, ask what it means when the angel comes and says, “Do not be afraid.”
It doesn’t hurt if we think about this Christmas question as early as October.