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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

German-Scandinavian Christmas Memories

Christmas in the Werner parsonage of my childhood was a festive celebration of the birth of Jesus. Wrapped in the traditions of my European forebears who traveled to America from Germany and Denmark, my parents and seven younger siblings and I embraced the spirit of Christmas with infectious gaiety from the first Sunday in Advent until our eyelids closed upon an Epiphany night.

The first Sunday in Advent ushered in the season of celebration as the Christmas tree was decorated in our home, stockings were hung, and a plate of homemade cookies was set out to persuade a nightly treat in each child’s stocking from Saint Nicholas.

The fragrances of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and anise titillated our senses throughout the season, enveloping our home as many busy hands rolled out, kneaded, and baked lebküchen, pfefferneuse, springerle, and stöllen for Christmas gift-giving and kaffee klatches with family and friends.

The annual Christmas photo became the centerpiece of our family’s Christmas card that was mailed to a host of family and friends. Christmas cards, joyfully received, framed the doors of each room in our home.

The carols of Christmas floated through our home and Lutheran parochial school as meticulous preparations were made for the children’s Christmas Eve program. Christmas dresses were sewn and new shoes were bought as recitations were practiced and music was memorized. Snow on the ground as we walked to church often heightened the brilliance of the special night. Carrying home a brown paper bag laden with fresh fruit and nuts brought squeals of glee to children hurrying home after the worship service.

Before any gift from under the tree was unwrapped, my siblings and I re-enacted the Christmas story in our home, dressed in costume, listening to the reading of Scripture from Luke 2. A heavenly family ensemble saturated every corner of our home as cello, flutes, violin, trumpets, piano, and voice raised a chorus together in praise of the birth of the Christ Child.

On Christmas morning the early risers among us eagerly assembled every family member at the top of the staircase to begin singing “Joy to the World” as we processed downstairs to see what Santa Claus had brought to us during the night. Christmas stöllen was the highlight of our Christmas morning breakfast. The merry spirit of Christmas gratitude continued through Epiphany when the decorations were tucked away for another year, but the beautiful sights, sounds, and scents of the season have been able to be gently unwrapped and caressed over and over again in the file cabinets of my mind.

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