Over here in Germany, Christmas is serious business. Nearly every village puts on some sort of Christmas festival or market, some of which run for an entire month of holiday bliss. The food alone is enough to keep me coming back for more.
But my favorite thing about Christmas in Deutschland would have to be the nativities. They are absolutely everywhere. I haven't seen Santa at a single Christmas market, but the story of Jesus is presented in nearly every format imaginable, including live animation.
The other day my girlfriend and I took the children to one of the local village Christmas markets not far from our area. I had a few Christmas gifts to buy and had been looking for something decidedly German to send back to family in the states. Leaving my purse in the car, I pocketed 100 euros ($130) and my cell phone and headed out with the kids in search of Christmas treasure.
As soon as we entered the main square of the festival we saw, much to our wondering awe, the three wise men and their camels in full New Testament regalia. They were awesome.
The kids and I visited for a moment, got a picture, and made a note of the live play taking place later in the afternoon.
We moved on and found scattered among the shops a live stable filled with animals -- donkey, goats, fowl, sheep -- for the children to touch and smell (the smell was very authentic). It was a great teaching moment and I snapped another picture before we headed on our way.
After wandering through the crowds and stalls I finally found some ornaments to purchase. Reaching into my pocket for my wad of cash I fingered my phone and dug around for the bills.
Nothing. My pocket was empty.
I checked my other pocket in vain knowing that my money had been next to my phone -- the same phone I had snapped pictures with 15 minutes earlier.
With a heavy heart my friend and I retraced our steps. I didn't have much hope. We carefully checked the busy walkways for my missing money but we all know that bills rarely end up as litter. The cash was nowhere to be seen.
All I could think about was my quickly depleting Christmas budget. Why had I taken so much money with me, and why hadn't I put it someplace safe, like my underwear?
We continued to retrace our steps and I continued to mumble a sad little prayer under my breath. It wouldn't be the end of the world if the money never surfaced, and if it went to someone who needed it more than us that was fine, too. But please, if there could be a way ...
Finally we landed ourselves once again in front of the magi. I approached the wise men and told them my plight. They shook their heads, no money had been found. I turned to leave, the day completely ruined, when the oldest (and wisest) of the three stopped me.
"Wait," he said, "I have an idea. Let us check the city hall, perhaps someone has turned it in." I left the children with my friend as the gentleman took my arm and we headed across the town square, through the alley and around the church, finally entering the Rathaus.
We walked down a narrow hall and he knocked on the last door. Upon entering, the fellow told the lady behind the desk my story, asking if anyone had turned in the money.
I stood there staring out the window. Their conversation was in German and my faith wasn't much better than a soggy yule log.
Finally the man turned to me with a big grin.
"They have it," he said. "Someone found it on the street and turned it in. See? People are good!"
He might not have been one of the real wise men, but he was good and wise and willing to help a poor, stupid American far from home feeling lost and forlorn. How funny that even after all this time the magi continue to show us that answers don't usually come unless we're willing to go the distance.
Annie Valentine is a wife, mother and columnist. Readers can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her blog at regardingannie.wordpress.com.