Countdown to Christmas in Berlin, Ohio


An Advent Calendar Helps Me Celebrate the Meaning of Christmas

A red ribbon on an evergreen garland adorns a fence in downtown Sugarcreek, Ohio in mid-December. Festive decorations were on display there and in Berlin, Ohio.

By Anna Krejci

People greatly anticipate Christmas Day with plans to join family or friends.  The day itself comes and goes quickly, but I look forward to the whole month of December.  This month I hope I have begun a new tradition – Christmas shopping in small, Ohio communities influenced by the Amish.  Berlin, Ohio is one such place.  I visited it during the second weekend in December this year. The main street through the commercial district is flanked on either side by stores selling quilts, wool, gardening equipment, pottery, clothing, bags, baked goods, art, crafts, furniture and more.

I considered buying many things there.  I left with a unique Advent calendar; my most-loved possession found that day.  One of the reasons why the calendar, called an Activity Advent, kept my interest was its simplicity in design, yet it really is deeply thoughtful.  When you have one, and use one, it encourages you to welcome Christmas purposefully.  Advent is the season in my church’s worship calendar immediately preceding Christmas.  It comprises the four weeks before Christmas; readings in worship are based on the theme.  Advent is a time of waiting.  It is a time to think about the world’s shortcomings and to anticipate the birth of baby Jesus on Christmas.  The coming of Jesus, who came to teach the people how to love one another, begins the joyful transformation of humankind that I like to believe is still happening now.

This Activity Advent is a wooden board with a stand. It allows you to reuse it year after year.  It has 24 perfectly round holes, each one numbered for a day in December.  The holes hold small slips of paper rolled up like tiny scrolls which are inserted through.  Each day, you remove a paper and read it.  On the paper you can write activities you plan to do for each day of December through Christmas Eve.  They can be festive activities, like cookie decorating, caroling, building snowmen, or reading Christmas books; they can be activities that strengthen your family relationships; or they can be volunteer activities that further the meaning of Christmas in your community.  The Advent calendar I found came with papers, upon which activity ideas were already written on them.  The Activity Advent was decorated with symbols of the winter holiday season that can be considered secular, or you might see religious meaning in them.  One of the decorations painted on the Activity Advent is an evergreen tree. I think the evergreens represent life everlasting in Jesus Christ.

My suggestion for a good Advent activity is reading the book, “The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Birth.”  During the Christmas of 2020, during the COVID-19 epidemic in Ohio, I participated in an online book study group for “The First Christmas” written by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus J. Borg. It was offered through my church, by my pastor, and I enjoyed it. It was a helpful distraction from the fear of contracting an illness and it filled me with hope.  It filled me with a sense that I was a part of the community of Christ even though it was an isolating time when joining crowds of people was a risk.  Thankfully, my Saturday travel to Berlin and being amid other people were possible after treatments and vaccines exist now.

“The First Christmas” changed my understanding of the Christmas stories in the Bible. As a child attending a Protestant, Christian church, I loved the biblical Christmas stories and wholeheartedly accepted them.  I was in awe of them.  As an adult, after reading Crossan and Borg’s book, it no longer matters to me that the Christmas stories are not literally true.  I am still in awe of them.  They were symbolic stories, examples of parables, that were meant to foretell to future Christians the special person that Jesus was going to become.  And the stories give introduction to the rest of Luke and Matthew, as Crossan and Borg wrote.  Jesus’s birth probably did not give civilizations at the time any indication of his position as the Son of God or Messiah at the time of his birth.  I still hold the Christmas stories in Luke and Matthew dear to me.  They hold truth, but not history. The stories – specifically the virgin birth of Jesus - symbolize that “all things are possible with God.”  To me, that is true, that so many things are possible with God. That is truth, especially when you think of all the wonderful ways we live and the inventions we have and the medical science from which we benefit.  With God, the wholesome things people strive for are possible.  With God, the ways people share resources and look out for the well-being of others is possible.  With God, life now and after death is possible.

On one corner of the street in Berlin, there was a life-sized nativity scene. It was as true to the stories as told in the Bible. Farm animals, shepherds, the Three Wise Men, Mary, and Joseph were gathered around baby Jesus as he lay in a manger. A bright star shined above.  My spouse and I posed for a photo by the scene. We inserted ourselves into the Christmas story; it was as if we were witnesses to Jesus’s birth, symbolically speaking.

We moved on from the nativity scene, our hands full of gifts; ourselves full of hope that the gifts we found would evoke joy in our family and friends.  Really though, the most joyful of what we have is knowing that with Christ, a new way of living and loving came to the world. On my way home, I saw the countryside, including the woods and fields. The late fall colors of the earth– tans, browns, greens – and the cloudy, gray sky reminded me it was mid-December.  I had the Activity Advent with me.  Maybe this Advent the neighborhood children will build snowmen together in the newly fallen snow.

Berlin, Ohio

Berlin is in Holmes County, Ohio.  It is in proximity to Millersburg and Sugarcreek.  According to Google Maps, Berlin is about an hour and a half drive south from Cleveland.

Activity Advent from The Hands That Shape

The Activity Advent calendar I found was made by The Hands That Shape, LLC.  I found it at Sol’s in Berlin.  The website address for The Hands That Shape is below.

Work Cited

Borg, Marcus J. and John Dominic Crossan. The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Birth, Harper Collins, 2007, New York.