Advent, the time of awaiting Jesus’ arrival and birth, is coming to an end.
Christmas is drawing closer. The last candle on the Advent wreath, the angelic candle symbolizing peace, has been lit. Life is similar to the Advent wreath: it goes in circles, many life situations repeat over time, it alternates between beautiful and less beautiful moments, between happy and sad events, between those events we remember fondly and those we would rather forget. Our determination to overcome the obstacles in our path and the strength and courage we invest into overcoming them is the light that, much like the candles of the Advent wreath, guides us to the end of the darkness, of difficult life circumstances.
The closer we get to Christmas, the more physically distant we are from each other. We are bound by our reality, which is full of limitations – but they are only in our minds.
When you open your heart and let love, care for loved ones, attentiveness and compassion guide you, the essence of Christmas becomes clear and you recognize that you have gained another experience, that you have survived another challenge and that physical distance has not distanced you from loved ones but has instead brought you closer to them since you made a sacrifice and showed your care, grace and love for them.
In these strange and difficult times, we recall similar circumstances from the not-so-distant past. Christmas Eve in Vukovar more than 20 years ago. The once glorious building of the Church of Saint Philip and James appeared somewhat slanted, like a hunched old lady, without a roof, only walls standing. The wind was howling, people were standing around with umbrellas, with radiant smiles, happy to have returned home and to see each other again. Despite the low temperatures and the bitter cold, Christmas never felt warmer and more intimate.
The Vukovar Advent Festivities have been held ever since, based on a traditional culture. This year will mark our 23rd annual festivities. The festivities consist of a series of music shows and theatre performances, accompanied by the lighting of candles of the Advent wreath. In the festivities for the First Sunday of Advent, a glowing river of lit torches carries light through the streets of Vukovar, from the Church of St Philip and James to the Eltz castle, where light is brought in and the first Advent candle is lit, followed by a rich traditional program.
Thus the darkness disappears and the light returns to Vukovar.
This year, everything is a bit different and more reserved, but no less attractive. There is no glowing river, but the light installations, the decorated town, and the Christmas music heard in the city center aim to preserve the Christmas spirit even in these difficult times.
In addition to lighting the Advent candles in the Vukovar City Museum as part of the 23rd Vukovar Advent Festivities, there is the fairy tale at the ice-skating rink, while the Nativity scene, the presentation of the Syrmia Christmas village. and the angel exhibition in the City Museum contributes to the Christmas atmosphere.
Angels are symbolic in the Advent and Christmas time – through their warmth, gentleness, wisdom, kindness, strength, and beauty, they give people hope and the strength to make that hope materialize in these challenging times. They watch over us and keep us safe. Just when you think you cannot go on, that there is no way out, a small window opens, letting out a thin beam of light, filling your heart with new hope. If it had not been for angels and their sweet and reverberant singing, Christmas Eve, the night of Jesus’ arrival to Earth, would be just like every other dark, silent night.
We always fondly recall the past, which becomes an illusion of the ideal, the one-of-a-kind in our imagination and memory; however, new times bring progress, new technologies, and some new customs that will only become more valued over time and stored in our little chest of memories, becoming part of our heritage.
Since St Nicholas could not visit different cities this year, the Vukovar Tourist Board organized a giveaway via Facebook, where a child’s drawing of the recognizable boot, the symbol of this saint, was randomly selected. The author of the selected drawing received a package full of sweets as the prize. There is no misfortune with no way out and with no way to bring a smile to children’s faces, which is the greatest gift of all.
In the last few years, we have witnessed the rise in popularity of Advent and Christmas fairs all over Croatia, modeled after the fairs in big European cities, but everything is different this year. This is an atypical Advent, which perhaps comes closest to its true, original meaning.
When the lights go out, what remains?
There is no glow, no glamour, no commercialization, no prestige. You remain alone with your thoughts, bare to the bone, which helps you realize that happiness is within your grasp, that it is hidden in the little things, and that the most valuable things in our lives are our families and friends. Much like the greatest value was laid in a barn, on straw. All the lights and new trends represent only the visible manifestation of the actual meaning of the holiday, but true light is present within us. Let us attempt to find it since it will shine brighter than ever in this hopelessness. Look around, recognize others’ sorrow, suffering, fear, and helplessness; smile, provide comfort, dispel fears, help those in need.
This light was symbolically presented during the last Advent when light magic occurred in the Eltz castle: by combining the new and the old, the imposing building of this Baroque structure was appropriately lit using modern technology, but the building also journeyed to the past when additional light from lanterns – over a hundred of them – as precursors to modern achievements, shone on the Advent and our hearts, reminding us of the past.
The most important thing is to find peace in your heart and to feel joy, no matter what, to return to original values and enjoy the closeness of loved ones, togetherness, and love, hoping for a swift end to these extraordinary circumstances and an even more beautiful and joyous Christmas next year.