Growing up, I used to get so excited weeks before Christmas. I knew it would soon be time for rich milk chocolates every day, special German cakes and cookies, and a small gift every Sunday in December to celebrate the coming of Saint Nicholas. Each year, I loved to make my own Christmas decorations with my brother and to find a special place to hang them in our home.
The very best moment came on Christmas Eve when we would accompany my father in our big yard, choose a bushy fir tree, and cut it together. Then came the complicated and comical adventure of dragging the tree back into the house, without tearing everything down in our path. My favorite moment of all was when we would gather together around the tree to decorate it while listening to old German Christmas carols.
One year, I invited my new boyfriend over who looked terrified when we placed candles in our tree and lit the candles. His eyes kept glancing over at the fire extinguisher near the fireplace. I could read in his eyes that he thought we were completely mad. With a smile on my face, I explained to him that we honored ancient German traditions and would never go “American”. I pointed out to him that Christmas trees originated from Germany and that lighting candles was an old tradition that dated back to the Victorian era. For Victorians, candles represented stars and were an important part of the Christmas tree.
According to some historians, it is the German preacher Martin Luther in the 16th century who introduced the first Christmas tree in his home. During Luther’s time, people decorated their trees with edible things, such as apples or gingerbread cookies. Later, glass ornaments became popular instead of food. In the 1840s, the Christmas tree was introduced in Great Britain by Prince Albert, who was the German husband of Queen Victoria. Soon after, Christmas trees became popular in America and today candles have been replaced by flashing electrical lights.
In my family tradition, we meet a few times more after Christmas Eve. We light the candles in our Christmas tree again, listen to our favorite German carols, stare at the beautiful fire in our fireplace, and drink quality German wine. In this cozy moment, we forget some of the painful memories of our past and help each other focus on the positive aspects of our journeys. It is a time for philosophizing, for sharing feelings, for supporting each other’s dreams, and most of all, a time to honor those who came before us.
My German mother, who is no longer with us, had a great love of Christmas. It was the one time during the year when she made huge efforts to bring peace and joy into our home. Negative energy was not tolerated on this special day, and neither were fighting or shouting. Christmas Eve was sacred and celebrated with great respect. To this day, we continue her traditions and welcome friends who have never seen a real Christmas tree before! Of course, the fire extinguisher is never far away…