Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Magic

by Silke Juppenlatz

When I was a little girl, growing up in Germany, Christmas Eve was a magical, wonderful day.

Traditions differ from country to country, and most of Europe doesn’t celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day, but on Christmas Eve. In England, where I now live, it’s all different. Because of this, Christmas has lost some of the magic for me. I get melancholy on Christmas Eve, homesick, every year. Even after all this time. If you have never celebrated Christmas on Christmas’ve missed out.

So let me share with you a little of my childhood Christmas Magic.

The day usually began at the crack of dawn, with my brother and me up before anyone else. We’d run into the living room to check -- just in case the “Christkind” (Not Santa) got the date wrong.

Naturally the “Christkind” has an inborn sense of timing and was never early. Much to our disappointment. Then we’d raid the last door on our Advent Calendar. (24 little doors, usually with chocolate figures behind each one, for those who have never seen one. But we used to make our own, with candies and chocolates and little toys wrapped into colorful paper or cloth, tied to a piece of fabric with 24 rings...)

Since there were no presents, we’d rattle downstairs to my Grandmother’s apartment. There were always home-baked cookies to be had, and we knew exactly where she kept them. We’d have breakfast (hot cocoa usually) and made pests of ourselves until some adult kicked us out to go play in the snow until about lunchtime. Snowball fights on Christmas Eve were a staple in my family.

Once we were tuckered out and about ready to drop, half frozen and red-faced, we’d go inside and either help bake more cookies, or watch TV until about 3pm.

At 3pm my dad would call us to take the tree upstairs. We’ve had real trees, always, but we had living fir tree planted into a big bucket -- and it went three stories up the stairs every Christmas Eve, regardless of how heavy it was.

We would decorate it with silver “Lametta” (Tinsel), pine cones with ribbons, silver and red balls and the odd little ornament. Most of our tree was silver -- and there’s a reason for it.
We use real candles.

I can see people rear back in horror and gasp in shock, here.
Children, a tree, and real candles -- all in one room?
Yes. Absolutely. I was taught from a very young age how you clip the candle holders into safe places. I was shown where to put them, and where not to put them. Same with my brother. There was no risk of us messing up, because we were made to understand fire is dangerous when we were very little.

So, with the tree all done up, the candle holders and (unlit) candles in place -- we’d leave the room. My dad would close and lock the living room door. It was the only time the door was closed, all year.

We’d go to “help” my mother with dinner, setting the table and generally making a complete mess in the kitchen. The kitchen doors would be closed too. (So my dad could sneak past into the living room with the presents!!)

By 5:30 we’d be waiting, listening and waiting...

I should probably explain where I grew up, so you can understand why we were listening. J

My hometown in Germany is Markgrรถningen. It’s in the South, about an hour and a half from the Black Forest. In winter, when I was little, we usually had snow at Christmas. If we didn’t, then I must have forgotten. It’s a very old town, picturesque, with some odd traditions.
I have my own, now that I’m away from there. I will call my parents on Christmas Eve, around 5:30... because I’m hoping to catch the sound of “Silent Night” being played on a lone trumpet, high above the town, from the top of the bell tower of the local church. (They stopped years ago, but I live in eternal hope to hear it again.)

Around 5:30pm we’d hear the trumpeter. We’d dim all the lights and open the window, the sound the only thing you could hear in the otherwise quiet night, ringing out across a town lit up and festive, blanketed in white, every noise dampened by the thick snow.

While he played, we’d go outside into the corridor and waited in front of the living room door.
All lights would be off. We’d stand in near twilight... and wait.

And then... there it was:

The tinkling of a silver bell.

The door opened to reveal a dark room containing the Christmas tree, all the candles lit, the silver reflecting the flames, glittering in the darkness.

Our trumpeter’s music still drifting in through the window...


Absolute and complete magic.

And if you thought we’d just race in to tear into the presents -- we never did.

That first sight of the lit tree will stay with me forever, and it held both of us spellbound for long moments.

I miss it.

(And if I can’t have a real tree, with real candles and “Lametta”... then I don’t want a tree!)

So, to all of you who have young children, I would like to suggest starting a tradition at your house.

Don’t bring the tree in until Christmas Eve. Even if they nag you.

Have one little present for each child to give on Christmas Eve.

Decorate the tree on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, together, have fun.

USE TINSEL. Lots of it. Make the tree glitter.

You don’t have to use real candles, but I’d suggest not to use colored or blinking lights.

Kick ‘em out of the room and lock the door. No one goes inside anymore. (Except the one who opens the door, and who puts one present under the tree for each one.)

Then, when it’s dark... put on some Christmas music, quietly in the background.

Make the kids wait outside the door, with the lights off (as much as possible.)

Open the door to the dark room with the now lit Christmas tree glittering in the dark -- and watch their faces.

It’s a recipe for magic and it never fails.

This is a Christmas present you can give your children - and yourself - which they will never ever forget!

Merry Christmas, however, wherever and whenever you are celebrating it!

One lucky winner will win a $20 Amazon gift certificate. Smile I'm also giving away a copy of Smitten.

Silke Juppenlatz

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Twitter: Evil_Author


  1. Wow! This does sound magical - such beautiful memories :-) Thanks for sharing and Merry Christmas!

    smaccall @

  2. Silke, my family and I do not celebrate Christmas, but I must say, you paint such a wondrous, magical picture that I miss what I've never had. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  3. Hope you've got over the home-sickness, Silke and are enjoying Christmas day. Your childhood does sound magical!

  4. Sounds amazing! I love the magic of Christmas and after having my daughter was reintroduced to it! We seem to lose a bit of it during those "growing up" years after Santa is revealed and we go off to college. Adult life begins. I'm glad to have a great little girl who reminds me daily of the magic in life and shows me what Christmas means every day! Thanks for sharing your magic with us and I hope you have a very Merry Christmas!

  5. I really enjoyed your post!! I bet you do miss those wonderful memories. Everything is so commercial now!! I must say my great granddad came over from Germany. I have never been there, but it sounded great during the holidays:)

    Merry Christmas to you and yours!!

  6. What a wonderful memory. Thank yo for sharing it with us.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  7. Beautiful holiday memories. I always enjoy learning how the holidays are celebrated in other countries.

    seriousreader at live dot com

  8. I think your memories are magical! I'm sure you children will appreciate them as they start continuing them with their families!

  9. I loved your memory. I've been to Germany a couple of times, and I would move there in a heartbeat. I loved it. One of my favorite places was Obertsdorf, on the southern end of the country. I remember sitting on the train across from a woman who had travelled from South Africa carrying two ostrich eggs for her family. And there's nothing like seeing Neuschwanstein in the winter time. Absolutely stunning.
    Thank you for reminding me of that special place. Enjoy your holidays!

  10. When I was growing up my folks never put the tree up until we were in bed on Christmas Eve.

    kissinoak at frontier dot com

  11. It's always good to find out what traditions people have and to incorporate some of them into ours.

  12. Hello Silke, it's good to see you here since you're partying all over the internet this weekend.

    I love your story and the traditions you had as a child. I love a brightly lit tree, so you throw on as much tinsel as you want. There can never be too much in my opinion.

    joderjo402 AT gmail DOT com

  13. A special lady reminiscing about a special time....thanks for sharing! And for the opportunity to win! Sheila P 52 @

  14. Thank you for sharing your childhood memories! How beautiful!

  15. What a beautiful memory. I would love to put real candles on a tree.
    debby236 at att dot net

  16. My family has never really been big on celebrating holidays but I'm loving your post of such a wonderful snapshot from your holiday memories.

    Merry Christmas!

  17. Sounds like lots of fun!

    Hope you have a great Christmas!

  18. Sounds like you are making wonderful memories for you and yours. Have a Merry Chr.istmas and more

  19. I can imagine walking into the dark room and seeing the tree sparkling. The element of surprise helps create the magical touch. We always had a real tree and we used silver tinsel to decorate it.

    Thanks for sharing your Christmas Eve traditions.

    Happy Holidays!

  20. Thanks for sharing your memories. Merry Christmas.

  21. what wonderful memorys

  22. hope everybody had a splendid Christmas!!

    dlsmilad at yahoo dot com

  23. For some reason that I can't explain, I love the cover to smitten. The woman looks real beautiful and I love that she's holding a teddy bear!

    I hope that you had a great Christmas!

    jessangil at gmail dot com

  24. I read this a little late, but it brought tears to my eyes! What a beautiful memory and great advise!

  25. beautifulmemories and i agree about the dark house and the lighted tree its so magical christmas is meand my dads favorite holday full of wonder and decorating we love it great post