It’s at this time of year that I look back at the Christmases when I was a child and remember how the house I grew up in smelled of toasted hazelnuts, gingerbread, incense, and fresh pine. Many years later, I can still move in my mind from room to room with ease, seeing the countless ways my mother transformed our home into a wonderland of traditions I strive to carry on.
Here is a glimpse at my childhood Christmases.
Each year, two weeks before Christmas, my mother filled a vase with pine branches she clipped in the woods surrounding our home. She decorated these fragrant, bowing branches with straw stars she brought with her from Germany. On our walls my mother hung intricate stars made from accordian-pleated, gold paper she hand-cut with tiny scissors. A table set with a collection of smoke men. A ring of brass angels circled a flickering candle as they rang tiny bells on a stand placed on our piano. The memory of the outing I went on as a child with my sister and father to a farm to cut our tree returns with greater warmth than the temperature of that bone-chilling day. I can still see the other families seated around us on the tractor-pulled hay ride to the field of trees…all of us singing carols as our breaths froze like puffy clouds before our rosy faces. Returning home to my mother’s warm hugs and tasty lunch she cooked while we were away. The anticipation of decorating our tree, followed closely by the unacceptable length of time we needed to wait for the branches to come down before we could decorate. Opening boxes of carefully wrapped ornaments, choosing which branches could support the heaviest ornaments, and which branches would display the oldest and dearest ornaments. Retrieving wrapped presents from hiding places to set beneath our lit tree. The woodsy smell and sweet crackling of logs my father burned in the fireplace. Christmas music wrapped around us as my mother joyfully played and sang German carols at the piano. The excitement of wearing a special dress my aunt sewed for me. Admiring the lit tree from my bedroom door while wondering which presents were for me. Wondering if the Barbie Camper I hinted fifteen times for was one of the gifts I could see. The doorbell ringing and my aunt and uncle arriving at our house for our celebration. The shrimp cocktail we ate with the tangy horseradish sauce before our meal of roast lamb and baked potatoes. The well-loved music of The Nutcracker Suite playing. And so much more.
Today, years later, my parents both sadly gone, I try to recreate my fondest memories so one day they will become my daughter’s fondest memories, too. (With the exception of the Barbie camper which I never did receive.)
To all of you, I wish you peace and happiness this holiday season, warm memories you will cherish, the best of times spent with the ones you love, a delicious meal cooked to perfection, and much joy in the new year.
Love to you all,