Friday, December 23, 2011
My childhood memories of Christmas do not centre on religion, presents or family meals. What has remained in my memory all these years is the feeling of magic, which is part of the innocence children experience when they are young and which we sadly lose when we discover that the holiday is a man-made event.
When I was a little girl, growing up in a German household, Christmas was a time of many secrets. Although I did not know it at the time, money was scarce in our household and gifts were kept small, although my mother was always very generous. In the lead-up to the big day, there was never any sign of wrapping paper, nobody ever talked about lists or having to go shopping. The only pre-Christmas excitement came from opening a window a day on my Advent calendar throughout December. Everything else just appeared as if by magic, making the possibility of angels and Santa Claus and elves seem very real.
The biggest secrecy of all was around the decorating of the Christmas tree. It was always done on Christmas Eve, behind closed doors by the grown-ups. Kids were absolutely forbidden to watch or participate. To ensure that there would be no peeking, the curtains were drawn and the door to the living room was tightly shut. All my cousin and I could do, was listen to the rustling and murmurings coming through the keyhole as we waited impatiently to see the end result.
Once it was dark, all the lights in the house were turned off and the door was slowly opened. The sight of our tree all decorated and lit up with real candles, never failed to excite us. It was, in many ways, more splendid than the gifts underneath the tree. Adding to the sense of wonder was the smell of singed pine needles, which our grandparents would snip off as they walked around the tree, bucket of water and scissors always at the ready.
Eventually, after the gifts had been distributed, the candles on the tree would be extinguished, one by one, and the lights turned back on. We would get cookies and chocolates while the adults drank mulled wine and sang German Christmas carols.
Although we have, for the most part, kept to our old traditions, there were a couple of years when hubby and I took the kids to celebrate Christmas in Florida. Near the villa where we stayed was a pool where all the visiting kids congregated to play. It was there that our then five-year old son heard one kid declare loudly to all the others that there was no such thing as Santa. Shattered, our son turned to his older sister and said: “it’s not true, is it, there really IS a Santa!” To which our daughter, truthfully replied that, no, the kid was telling the truth, there was no such thing. Our son’s disbelief was heartbreaking to witness and I remember having to console him for the rest of the afternoon.
This year we had two little children visiting on the day hubby and I trimmed our tree. He and I were snarling at each other because the last strand of lights wouldn’t light up and I wanted that taken care of before the girls arrived. I quickly sent hubby to the hardware store around the corner before it closed to get another strand. He came back with outdoor lights. He went back. He returned with indoor lights this time only the strand was too short. Back he went again. This time he returned with some sort of weird contraption; a net with light bulbs that was meant for an outdoor bush. We should have been laughing but we were both seething by then. He finally got it right just as the store was closing. It was then that I found the spare bulbs that would have salvaged the original strand of lights, at the bottom of the box holding all the decorations….
We hurriedly put the basic decorations up, leaving the rest for the little girls who arrived shortly thereafter. They are six and four respectively so they still believe in magic and their faces, so full of wonder and awe, were the best Christmas present hubby and I could have asked for. They giggled and chatted about Father Christmas as they added some decorations wherever they could reach. I found it in my heart to not try and make the tree perfect after they had left, preferring to savour their pleasure every time I see two balls of the same colour hanging side by side, which in my childhood home would have been 'verboten.'
May you experience simplicity and see the joy of innocence on the faces of those you love this holiday season.