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 Eve...you’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 Markgröningen. 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.
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.
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!
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Silke JuppenlatzTwitter: Evil_Author