Christmas decorating is minimal in my house now, but I have good memories of Christmases of long ago.
Christmas Eve was always a wonderful time for me when I was a child. After a Christmas concert or a carol singing event in the early evening my brothers and sisters and I walked home, our boots crunching in the snow. As we entered the house, delicious aromas of roast goose had our mouths watering.
My mother was a magician in the kitchen. On a tight budget, she nevertheless managed to serve an amazing Christmas dinner.
The children were kept out of the darkened living room. A curtain was drawn to close the otherwise open doorway. Christmas music came from the radio or a record player, I’m not sure which, and we were consumed with anticipation of the great event that would follow the meal. Almost too excited to eat, we were aware that we had to be on our best behaviour if we hoped to have presents waiting for us under the tree.
After dinner, the moment finally arrived. A faint bell tinkled behind the curtain signalling that the Christ child had visited our tree and we were now allowed into the living room. My brothers and sisters, my parents, and any cousins or other guests all sat quietly on the sofa and chairs or even on the floor in front of the sofa. The lights were low but we could see that the empty space under the tree now held presents.
But first we had to sing Silent Night. My parents sang it in German and we complained that we didn’t want to do it. But my mother always had the same answer. “If you don’t know the words in German you can sing along in English.”
My dad wore a red vest and enjoyed playing the role of some sort of Santa—the distributor of the gifts anyway. Sometimes he picked up a present without a name tag and didn’t know who it was for. I used to think it strange that he would look at my mother and she would say a name. Now how did she know?
In those early years when my parents had very little money, we had some of our happiest Christmases. We didn’t receive individual gifts, but rather a gift to be shared—board games like Monopoly or Careers. One year it was a circular metal game board that came apart like a very thin cookie tin and had the playing pieces inside for playing Chinese Checkers and Parcheesi. We were allowed to stay up as late as we wanted on Christmas Eve. That in itself was a huge gift, since our bedtimes were pretty strict for the rest of the year.
We had the most wonderful evening. The adults sat in the living room talking quietly, maybe having an egg nog or a brandy while Christmas music played softly. We played our board games in the kitchen until around midnight, usually dressed in our pyjamas, struggling to keep our eyes open and make the good time last.
Finally, we went to bed with smiles on our faces, feeling the love of our family. While outside, the cold northern winter did what it would, we felt warm right through to our souls.