In Germany, the Christmas season begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Eve, the First Advent. We put an Adventskranz (evergreen wreath) on our table with four red candles on it and lit one candle. Each Sunday, we lit one more candle until all four were lit. On December 1, we hung up an Adventskalender with a door for each day until Christmas Eve. Nowadays, the calendars are filled with chocolate, but when I was a child they were flat with a picture inside. Frugal as we were, we carefully closed the doors after Christmas and reused the same calendar year after year.
On December 6, Nikolaus – the German Santa Claus – visits the children. My brother and I placed a shoe or boot by the front door and Nikolaus filled it with candy, oranges, apples or similar goodies. Bad children would get a piece of coal in their shoe, but I only knew that from hearsay.
When I was a little girl, I wrote a wish list and I placed it outside the window. I weighed it down with a piece of coal so it wouldn’t fly away. Then I left the room and when I came back the list was gone. One time, I mailed a letter to Christkind, that is, the town of Christkindl in Austria, and was overjoyed when I received an answer.
In Germany, people don’t decorate their (usually live) Christmas tree until Christmas Eve. For a while we used real candles for our tree. Later, we switched to electric candles when they became available.
My dad would read a story to us kids in our bedroom while my mom decorated the tree and then locked the living room door. We went to church on Christmas Eve, ate supper, and then admired the presents that Christkind had brought us. Gifts were simple and often practical.
The event I looked forward to the most did not happen at our house, though, but across the street. Every Christmas, our neighbors emptied their living room to lay out their miniature railroad. The two sons and my brother – all much older than me – played with it while I was mostly relegated to watching it. That did not diminish my joy. To this day I get excited when I see a miniature railroad. It takes me back to a simpler time of wide-eyed wonder.
Image: Gerbil (commons.wikimedia.org)