Christmas is a sentimental time for most people. For me it is an extremely happy time because I can bask in the glow of warm memories. My recollections, however, may be quite different from those of my friends. My life began in the town of Trier, Germany (West Germany back then). I remained there until I was nearly 9 years old and am, therefore, able to remember quite a bit of my heritage. Today – Christmas Eve day – I am reminiscing and savoring memories of my sweet German ‘Mutti’ who made this time of the year such a blessed and special one.
ANGELS BAKING – we lived in a large apartment on the third floor of our building. One of our windows faced a mountain at the top of which stood a huge statue of the Blessed Mother. Around her head was a halo of lights that lit up at night. Since this window faced West, we also saw every sunset. As the burnished colors put on their display, Mutti would tell me that this glow came from the angel’s ovens as they baked birthday cookies for baby Jesus. The tantalizing scent of cookies baking in our own kitchen gave me the aroma to go along with her tale.
ST. NICHOLAS – German children celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas on the eve of December 5th. The tradition comes from a real-life saint – a 4th-century Catholic bishop, in what is now Turkey, who did many kind deeds for his fellow man. On the evening of December 5th someone dressed as St. Nicholas would come to our door – dressed in his bishop’s finery and admonish us to be good. His devilish side-kick, with a bag of coal, would warn us of the consequences if we misbehaved. Then we would place shoes under our beds before going to sleep. In the night our parents filled them with small treats, fruit, and a small gift. Another variation involved specially decorated plates that were left out and filled with treats.
– When I was a child in Germany, there was no Santa Claus. Instead, St. Nicholas came on the evening of the 5th. The tradition in those days spoke of the Christ-Child coming on Christmas Eve, with the aid of His angels. Since we had thus far only had an Advent Wreath, the day of Christmas Eve was spent in excited anticipation. I would spend time with my uncle Jaja, who would play his hand carved wooden flute while I sang Christmas carols. My parents would be sequestered behind closed doors – decorating the Christmas tree and otherwise assisting the angels and Jesus with the gifts. All of sudden, the tinkling of a tiny bell could be heard! It was time to run into the living room and see what they had been up to! There, on the table would be a live Christmas tree with real candles ablaze. Our gifts, from the Christ-Child, would be on the floor below – unwrapped and ready for play!
When we came to the United States, we brought much of this tradition with us. We still use some of these practices to this day.
Parts of American culture and the present times have also easily melded into our celebration. All in all, I am so very grateful that I was taught to respect the Reason for the Season and that this spirit has been passed down to my children and grandchildren!
In loving memory of my Mutti – Marie-Luise Atherton!