During my childhood in Germany (late 1950s and 1960s), Christmas gifts were often practical, if not always useful right away. Boys were luckier than girls. My uncle’s wife gave all her nieces an ornamental cup, saucer, and plate every Christmas. Much later I talked to other women who received bed linen or cutlery from their relatives. Their well-meant intentions of giving a girl a dowry did not consider fashion changes or personal taste. I, for one, never used my china and refused to take it along when I moved away from home.
Outings to other relatives were more pleasant. It was customary to visit uncles and aunts over the holidays, especially the godmother and godfather. Besides our gift we received a bag full of cookies. That way we could sample a wide variety of this Christmas essential. After all, Christmas in Germany is unthinkable without cookies.
December 25 and 26 are holidays in Germany. Even Christmas Eve is a partial holiday and all grocery shopping had to be concluded by 1 o’clock on December 24. It was a very stressful day because the butcher shop and bakeries/grocery stores were packed to capacity.
In the afternoon we would decorate our tree and go to church. We had barely finished our supper and exchanged gifts when my grandfather (Opa) called us downstairs for a second Bescherung, the gift exchange. He was always the most excited about Christmas Eve, even though he received the most predictable gifts: cigars, socks or a sweater.
Opa, a retired steel worker, was hard of hearing and did not often participate in our conversations. But one Christmas Eve he began telling stories. They were simple stories about his commute to the steel mill by train, yet I still treasure them to this day.
And while I have forgotten most of the gifts I received back then, his stories live within me and define me because they connect me to those who came before me and are part of who I am.
Image: gerbil (commons.wikimedia.org)