December was a magical time for a child in post-war West Germany, and not because we were showered with gifts. The season was dotted with milestones, and the first one was the Adventskranz we put on the table on the four Sundays before Christmas. Each Sunday, another candle was lit on it. Then came Nikolaustag (St. Nikolaus Day) on December 6. Once it was dark we children put a shoe by the front door and returned after a while to find it filled with candy, an orange or an apple. Bad children got coal in their shoe, but I only know that from hearsay!
In Germany, the Christmas holidays last from Christmas Eve at noon through December 26. That meant that housewives had to go grocery shopping on the morning of Christmas Eve. In the afternoon our tiny living room became off limits for us children and my dad read us a story in our bedroom. Then we attended church and had supper. When the dishes were done a little bell rang and we were finally allowed into the living room where we admired the Christmas tree with live candles. After we had all opened our presents we headed downstairs where our grandpa was already waiting for our second “Bescherung.” He was always most excited about Christmas, even though he usually received socks or cigars. On December 25 we had a special meal for lunch. We spent the two Christmas holidays visiting our aunts and uncles (who doubled as godmother and godfather).
For me, the most exciting part of the Christmas vacation was when our neighbors across the street vacated a room to display their miniature railroad. My brother and I would visit their two boys to play with it. At home I would play with a puzzle or read a book. When the last cookie was eaten, the railroad put away, and the puzzle finished it was time to throw out the Christmas tree and go back to school – until the smell of freshly baked cookies filled the house again next December.