The Christmas season was one of my most memorable and special times of my childhood. Here, in my memoire blog I am reliving those treasured moments with sincere gratitude to my late parents, and offer these memories as an inspiration and legacy to my own children.
Long before the first of December the excitement grew.
For starters, it meant going out for long walks with my dad into the woods and nearby forests.
My father, who was a scientist, a phytopathologist, specialising in plant diseases, usually was far too busy with his work to play with his little daughter. However, when it came to walks and plants, he could indulge in his botanical passion at the same time. It’s funny how he somehow never knew the ‘real’ names of flowers, only their botanical Latin names.
Anyway, prior to December, we had strolled around in the crisp air of the autumnal forests to pick mushrooms and fungi. We’d go off the beaten trail kicking around the brown mushy leaves releasing this deliciously pungent musty aroma mingled with the promising scent of the hidden away mushrooms. When I excitedly found some, he would come over to expect my find, crouched down, picked one and then explained to me why that particular one was either an edible or a poisonous fungus mushroom.
Back home, he’d spread out the contents of our baskets onto newspaper, and then get his relevant books with pictures to make sure his little daughter would understand the importance of what an edible mushroom looks like. (Unfortunately this little education did not stay in lasting memory). Meanwhile, my mother busied herself heating some butter to sauté the delicious morsels.
December and Advent had arrived. The entire home changed into a cosy atmosphere of sacred expectation. My mother had procured two large advent wreaths. One hung with their large red ribbons and red candles from the central light chandelier in the hallway, the other one was on our dining table, over a lovely Christmassy cloth. Delightful fresh pine scent wafted through the rooms, heralding the soon to come big festivities.
There are four Advent Sundays before Christmas, and on each of those Sundays the three of us, my mother, father and I, would gather around the table in the evening. The lights were dimmed, the number of candles depending on the Sunday in Advent lit. My father would get out his guitar and then we would all sing pre Christmas Advent carols, whilst also munching on home baked Christmas cookies. It was a time when my parents talked about their childhood Christmas experiences, and more importantly instilled in me the reason behind Christmas, the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Throughout the Advent, Pre-Christmas time I had a miniature stable manger. When I had been a good girl I could earn some soft straw pieces to make the manger softer and nicer for the Christ Child, das Christkind. At church they had a big nativity scene, and I loved all those figurines, especially the sheep and the donkey. Right there at that nativity scene was a big box where money and other goodies could be left for poor children and orphans. This is where my earned straw came into focus: every straw could be exchanged to money, or something else, to give to orphan children. I was very eager to earn as much straw as possible, because then other little children would be happy; after all my mother had explained to me that when we make poor people happy that meant that we make Jesus happy.
The Advent time was full of activities. Of course I had an Advent calendar and I eagerly opened a new window every morning … another day closer to Christmas.
The night from the 5th to the 6th of December was St. Nicholas night. This precious saint was the original Santa Claus. St. Nicholas would come passed by the windows or doors and leave little presents and goodies during the night, provided some clean shoes were left out for each person in the family to be filled. This was probably the only time in the year that I eagerly cleaned, polished and shined not only my shoes, but also those of my parents … after all, Saint Nicholas should fill their shoes too.
When I was a little older I was allowed to go to a St. Nicholas evening. Then, St. Nicholas and his faithful helper, Servant Ruprecht, would arrive. Ruprecht would carry a large sack or basket full of wonderful present, but also a stick for naughty children (which of course he never used, only threatened with).
Depending on how the St. Nicholas evening was arranged, usually in a larger group, each child did a little presentation, such as a poem, or a little song. Then, St. Nicholas would get out his big golden book and read out all the good and naughty things committed during the year (what fun when parents were also called out by St. Nicholas and dads were told that they were not diligent in helping mums taking the rubbish (trash) out!!). After that everyone got a little present.
I guess, part of my mother’s attempt to get a very excited little girl busy and out of her feet, was to get me to write a beautiful letter to the ‘Christkind’ with all the presents I wanted. Then the ‘Christkind’ could chose from that list …..
During Advent, my mother and I were very busy baking delicious Christmas cookies and of course the famous German ‘Stolen’ (my recipe is here).
Part of the Christmas preparations were my dad taking me out for our long walks in the forest. This time we collected decorative fir tree twigs, colourful little branches with berries or wild rosehip, interesting looking bark, interesting shaped little rocks, large patches of green moss, and other finds.
My mother was in charge decorating the place with the twigs and branches, whilst my dad and I went to work on the crafting a cave type stable to house the nativity scene. With glue, nails and other material we put together a little ‘house’ … the bark became a roof, the moss hanging over it, and so forth.
Another part of the advent fun was being busy with lots of arts and craft, such as making lanterns with shiny metallic papers, or straw stars to be hung as ornaments on the Christmas tree.
We also went to those wonderful Christmas markets as described in one of my earlier blogs.
To me, as a child, the most magical happened around the Christmas room. Actually, it was my father’s large study which was locked off throughout the entire Advent time, and truly mysterious things happened there.
The Christmas season probably carries the most memorable joyful childhood memories to me. My dad, as mentioned earlier, was way too busy normally, but somehow he lovingly cooperated with my mother during that time. (I wish I could have given my own children the same kind of special and magical Christmas, however, marrying a man from a culture different to my own, and who was not on the same wavelength spiritually, nor with firmly embedded in Biblical values, made things difficult to reproduce. Well, maybe my memoire blogs might inspire my children to integrate ideas into their own special Christmas traditions with the grandchildren.)
Anyway, back to the Christmas room. Both of my parents sneaked in and out of that room without me ever noticing it. They laid a decoy bell with a long string which rang in a different room. Apparently, every time when the bell rang, an angel had passed by. I was forever trying to catch that angel. Meanwhile, stuff disappeared from in front of the locked door to my dad’s study. Well, the stuff I am talking about were my toys, such as my dolls, teddy bears, etc. I virtually lived in front of that locked door just to catch that angel, or ran to the bell.
I was vexed to see that my dolls and teddy bears were allowed to get into the Christmas room, one by one, but I was not!
Finally, we came to Christmas Eve, which in German is ‘Heiliger Abend’ (Hallowed Eve – Night). In Germany the main Christmas event is Cristmas Eve and not Christmas Day, meaning all the presents are opened on Christmas Eve.
By then my excitement had become unbearable (my poor parents!). Whilst my mother busied herself with the Christmas Eve dinner, my dad was relegated to keep me entertained. Sitting in front of that locked door, of course, we would then play board games which my dad graciously allowed me to win.
There were times when I would not budge from that door, and my parents had that ‘horrible’ idea to go for a walk in the snowy wintery evening before the dinner …. and the door opening. Oddly enough, they were right. Once outside with the bright moonlight illuminating the glistening white covering on the trees and the crunching sound of the snow under our feet, I momentarily forgot about that locked door.
Then finally came the dinner. I was trying to chew my food and not choke on it with all the excitement, knowing that any moment I would hear that bell again, and an angel would have come to open that door.
There, then, was the bell! I bolted out of my chair towards the Christmas room. The door was open! A huge tree glowing with loads of real candles lightening up the otherwise dark room. I stood there in awe, spell bound, as I neared the golden glow of the silently flickering candles with their light catching in the glistening Christmas decoration. I finally peeled my eyes off the magnificent tree, looking around in the dark but candle lit room. There were all my dolls and teddy bears in their newly knitted and crochet garments sitting around boxes wrapped in delightful paper and ribbons.
As I was turning to open those presents, I was gently and firmly put into a chair. First things first before any opening of any presents! My father took out his Bible and began to read from the Book of Luke, the writings about the very first Christmas, Jesus’ birth. We all joined him in prayer and thanked God for all His goodness and all that He provided.
My father picked up his guitar and led us into worshipful Christmas carols. To God be the glory and thanksgiving, first, to declare His love and majesty!