Christmas is so fast approaching and I am caught up in the hustle and bustle of preparing for that short wonderful time of bliss.
I missed writing my post on the weekend because we were attending one of the most festive and beloved Advent Celebrations at our friends Klaus and Erika. For many years now they have been inviting all their German friends from our village for an afternoon and evening of feasting and celebrating Advent with stories, poems and songs. It has become a cherished tradition.
The Gerhards are the most amazing hosts. Their warm and cozy log house is beautifully decorated with traditional ornaments and lit with softly glowing bees’ wax candles. Erika’s spectacular desserts would put any pastry maker to shame. They not only look like pieces of art, but also taste heavenly. Klaus is the chef. After the kaffeeklatsch we are joyously singing all the traditional Christmas songs. Suddenly an enticing aroma from his supper concoctions wafts over from the oven, where a big ham and Sauerkraut is heating up. The spices of the mulled wine simmering on the stove also emanate an tantalizing scent.
There is a lot of joyous chatting and reminiscing going on. Memories of past Christmases and especially from our childhood are evoked and told. I will tell you mine.
My first vivid Christmas recollection dates back to 1948. My twin brother and I had just turned four in October. Our older half sister had recently married. Since there was still a housing shortage from the war they moved in with us. Our spacious and well designed home could comfortably accommodate all of us. My sister was expecting her first child and seemed to need the comforting nearness of my mom.
For the first time I was aware of all the preparations going on in our household. One snowy day our father took us into the forest to get evergreen branches, which my parents and sister wound into a beautiful fragrant wreath for the first Sunday of Advent. They decorated it with pine cones, ribbons and dried red berries. They placed four red candles on it. I was delighted when I was allowed to help. My sister taught us a little Advent poem, which we recited excitedly.
ein Lichtlein brennt
dann steht das Christkind
vor der Tür.
Shortly after our first candle lighting with singing and sweet goodies, St. Nicholaus came for a visit with Knecht Ruprecht. My sister’s husband and a young friend had dressed up as the pair. We were in awe and fear, when they loudly banged on the door to announce their arrival. Had we been good or bad? Would they leave little presents and goodies in our boots placed in front of the door or would they admonish us and leave a stick or clumps of coal instead?
With trembling voices we would recite little poems and sing songs.
In spite of our doubts and fears we always were rewarded by Nicholaus.
Throughout the Advent season our sister and mom would help us create little tree decorations. I loved to make stars out of paper or straw.
In spite of the shortage of many ingredients in East Germany after the war, there was always a delicious smell of baking and roasting apples in the house.
On the morning of Christmas Eve our father would go out to get a Christmas tree. Since our living room was very spacious and had a high ceiling our tree was enormous.
Throughout the day my brother and I would rehearse songs and poems we had learned or try to play quietly so the Christkind would not be upset with us and not bring us any presents.
After an early supper we were sent to our room to get dressed into our Sunday clothes and we had to wait quietly.
Suddenly a little bell would ring and our parents and my sister and brother-in-law would sing “Ihr Kinderlein kommet….”, which means “Come little children…”
My mother and father would lead us by hand into the festive room lit only by real wax candles on the big Christmas tree. We would all stand around the marvelous tree inhaling the wonderful fragrance, hear my father read the Christmas story.and sing the Christmas songs we had learned by now. Finally, after my brother and I had recited a prayer or poem, we were allowed to look at the gift table, where all the presents were lovingly arranged and an individual plate with goodies for every one was placed.
That particular year our new brother-in-law had worked hard, often at night to make a beautiful wooden crib for my dolls and carve some authentic traditional puppet heads for my brother. My sister had sewn the costumes and knitted outfits for my dolls.
For many years my brother loved to perform puppet shows. When we fled to West Germany, my sister send him the puppets to the West. My brother kept them, until he died. They were sent by his company across the ocean to us in Canada.
These puppets are a precious symbol of the short time we had been living as an extended family in Gotha. They are also a symbol of the love, which went into gift giving. Our brother-in-law created these gifts with his own hands many a night after work.
Love is the greatest gift we can give and receive. It will never be forgotten.
May you all give and receive that great gift of LOVE this Christmas and always.
Frohe Weihnacht. Merry Christmas to all of you.