Thursday, 23 December 2010

Christmas Eve At Home - 23rd Window



Most years, there were only the three of us for Christmas Eve, mum, dad and me.

All day long an electric tickle crackled in the atmosphere, starting in the morning, straight after I got out of bed. A quietly subdued sense of anticipation made me feel like I was holding my breath and stepping more lightly than on any other day of the year.

Breakfast over, dad and I went to the market to collect the tree we had chosen the day before; we carried it home, me holding on to the thin, top end and dad holding the trunk.  Getting the tree to fit into the holder was always a complicated job; the trunk never quite fit and had to be sawn off a bit, planed a bit, cut some more, filed a bit, until dad was satisfied. By now the trunk had lost some of its length, dad was not the most handy of men.

Neither was he very patient, in spite of the festiveness a mild curse or two accompanied his labours.

If mum was finished ‘doing’ the little Christmas room we were allowed to carry the tree into its place, the same place as every year, in the corner by the window.

By now it was time for lunch, which was a hasty meal; there was much left to do before the magic hour of six o’clock when our family celebrations would begin.  By three in the afternoon things calmed down, jobs were done and it was time for a bath. Christmas Eve was the only day in the year when we had a bath in the middle of the afternoon; mum decreed it and dad and I obeyed.

The winter’s day’s early dusk fell and it was time to dress the tree. This was a job for mum and me, while dad sat smoking his pipe and giving advice:

“There’s a hole here, a red bauble would fit in over there, this branch needs gold, that one needs silver, that candle is too close to the branch above”. Finally, lametta thrown over the tree haphazardly, “naturally”, to cling where it would, all three of us declared ourselves satisfied.

“A beautiful tree, it’ll be spectacular when we light the candles”.

All the while the radio played festive music, a request programme for the more discerning taste; I can’t remember any discordant jingles, although I may be wrong.

Six o’clock and the magic hour had arrived.

Mum had prepared supper earlier; when we were on our own, the meal was simple, yet festive, the traditional potato salad, a green salad, smoked fish, smoked meats, black bread; I was allowed a small glass of wine, probably watered down, although I didn’t know it then.

In large families, after the meal, one person would go into the Christmas room and light the candles, before the rest of the family was called in, but in our house all three of us went in together and dad and I watched mum carefully light the candles. We had already brought our presents from where they had been hidden and put them under the tree after dressing it.

“Ah, Oh, it is the most beautiful tree we’ve ever had, don’t you agree?”
We did.

It was time to unwrap the presents; this never took very long, there were never very many in those days, mine were most often books I had asked for; presents were certainly important but there was so much else to Christmas Eve that they were simply a small part of the ritual.

Dad was waiting for his treat. “Will you sing for me? Please, do sing now”.
The radio had fallen silent at six o’clock.

Mum had a lovely mezzo voice. When I had become confident enough to let my childish treble ring out she began to harmonise and we sang all dad’s favourite songs.

I too had a request for mum. She had a wonderful way with a harmonica; she owned several of these simple, folksy instruments and she could make them break into such hauntingly soulful, yearning melancholy that the hairs on my arms stood on end. She always ended her repertoire with Silent Night, Holy Night, with dad and me singing full out.

This usually finished dad off; there’d be tears in his eyes, and to get him (and ourselves too) back on an even keel, Mum or I fetched dad’s mandolin. It didn’t take much pleading before dad plucked a few chords, mum took up her harmonica and I sang along, happier, jollier songs now.

Wine, even my watered down cup, music, many “do you remember” reminiscences, a table laden with my books, dad’s cigars and mum’s small trinkets, plates of delicacies to nibble, the warmth and glow of the candles and a genuine feeling of contentment and goodwill all served to make Christmas Eve truly memorable.

For several years mum and I went to Midnight Mass. We’d bundle ourselves up, often wearing new scarves, gloves and hats and go to the largest of the churches in the town, the deep bells from all churches ringing us on our way.  I seem to remember that we always sank into deep snow. The church was packed with worshippers and others like us, who had come for the music. We slipped in at the back; a thousand candles lit up every stone, and the sound of the massive organ filled the vast edifice.

In common with every one there we lifted our voices and sang our hearts out.

Going home, mum and I stayed silent. There was nothing left to say.

41 comments:

  1. I loved this Friko. It sounds like the simplest of Christmases, and doubtless all the better for that!

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  2. the wealth of your childhood - clearly set the foundation for the wealth of your presence!! steven

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  3. That must have been a most special, treasured time for little Eva!

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  4. Friko, When I was a kid, the longest day of the year was the day before Christmas. Thanks for your recollection of your past Christmas Eve.

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  5. Okay, this is and always will be one of my favorites.

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  6. This brought tears. You are such a dear person and I thank you for the recollections of your early life. The food you mention in your posts always start my digestive juices flowing and WOMAN..... I get powerful hungry. You recall my German childhood, too.
    Love to you... Merry Christmas

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  7. Certainly tears in my eyes after reading this Friko.

    Merry Christmas and bless you for entertaining us all over the Advent!

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  8. Thank you for sharing your memories of childhood. Your Christmas sounds like a very happy one - three of you in harmony. I love the image.

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  9. You teach us by example here, recapturing so beautifully what this holiday ought to be. In your words, which cannot be bettered, "presents were certainly important but there was so much else to Christmas Eve that they were simply a small part of the ritual."

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  10. What a beautiful memory from your childhood. Each detail is so real and fresh, I could touch them. Beautifully told, Friko.

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  11. Delightful, and soul-stirring, Friko. Thank you so much for sharing these memories with us.
    Wishing you health and happiness now, for Christmas, and in the new year.
    -- K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

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  12. A beautiful Christmas ! Lovely memories .

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  13. You are a gifted storyteller, Friko. I was picturing every step of that as I read, and I enjoyed it very much. What a rich set of memories! :)

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  14. A Christmas Eve filled with music, love and warmth. Nothing more is needed. Just beautiful, Friko.

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  15. what a lovely tradition...growing up we always went to my great aunts house on christmas eve and it was a time with extended family we did not see often...i miss that...

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  16. This sounds like a perfect Christmas to me. No rush no fuss. Just the important stuff...simple good food, family, simple shared decorating and then honoring the holiday at church.

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  17. Lovely Christmas memories! Friko have a blessed peaceful Christmas. x

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  18. I enjoyed reading your Christmas memories.
    Have a wonderful Christmas and best wishes for the coming year.

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  19. Wishing you the loveliest of Christmas holidays and peace and health in the New Year.

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  20. Such a beautiful memory! Thank you for sharing it!

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  21. You are such a powerful writer, Friko. I have tears in my eyes. I can't wait to link to this. Thank you, thank you, and Merry Christmas, sister.

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  22. This was marvelous. You took me right there with you. What woderful memories of Christmas
    Thanky you for sharing this Friko
    Merry Christmas

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  23. Friko. I was there. And for that I thank you!
    XO
    WWW

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  24. I've just spent some time reading the previous 'windows' and have to say you have done a remarkable thing in writing all these posts. You are really on a roll, Friko, and your creativity seems inexhaustible. Wonderful variety in all of them, and the most interesting things to read!
    As for this one, it's a beautiful miniature. I was quite intrigued by the idea of your mother playing the harmonica - surely not a typical instrument for a woman to play. I love the sound and would love to learn someday. Your description of her transformation as she played was wonderful and gives me quite a different view of her.
    Bravo, dear friend. You have assembled a veritable treasure of writings these last days.

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  25. A wonderful post, Friko. I was most 'tickled' by the ritual of the mid-afternoon bath.

    As a child I loved walking from the village, through country lanes to the church for a midnight service.

    Thank you for your many wonderful blog posts and a Merry Christmas to you.

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  26. Beautifully preserved memories are a delight to read. Thank you, Friko, and Merry Christmas to you!
    I still have the little glass holders from our candles received at church on Christmas Eve in Germany. We were instructed, auf Dueutsch (of course!), to carry the light of Christ out into our own homes. At least I think that is what they said! It was a lovely sight to see candlelight bobbing away into the dark streets.

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  27. Sounds like a wonderful Christmas Eve, hope that today has been good for you and that you will have a very special and blessed time over the holidays.

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  28. I've missed your writing , Friko.

    This was exquisite , tender , and powerful .

    Thank you for sharing in this way you do, and I so look forward to catching up.

    Merry Merry, and wishes for peace and hope in the days to come.

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  29. This was such a good piece of writing - I can almost hear the harmonica playing "Silent Night." It makes me want to write about my Christmas in Wisconsin where Mom, Daddy and I followed the similar Christmas traditions you describe; I didn't know then that we were still steeped in the German traditions.

    Have a very merry Christmas and Fröhliche Weihnachten too, Friko!

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  30. she is obviously confused. and yes I'm glad it's over for another year.

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  31. A holiday treat, as this holiday should be enjoyed. Well done , and thank you for the sharing.

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  32. A beautiful Christmas story, filled with tradition and love.

    Congratulations of a mention on POTW

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  33. Absolutely beautiful. I feel very blessed to read this tonight. Congratulations on POTW mention at Hilarys.

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  34. Congrats on your POTW from Hilary.

    This is a wonderful Christmas post. Thanks for sharing your memories, it sounds so loving and happy.

    Cheers, jj

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  35. It was as if I stood in the shadows watching. What a lovely reminiscence!

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  36. Whatever happened to the mandolin? Heartwarming stuff, even down to the mid-afternoon bath. Funnily enough, the Christmas Eve Badedas bath is still one of my traditions - even though I forgot to have my bath this year. There's always next year, I suppose - time permitting. I'll probably need it by then!

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  37. That's the nicest Christmas story I've read in a long time. It just warms my heart and it makes me wish for those simpler times, again.

    I've stopped by because of Hilary's POTW list, this week. What a good choice this was!

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  38. Hilary sent me and this is really a very fine post. I really enjoyed it. Wishing you a Happy New Year! :)

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Comments are good, I like to know what you think of my posts. I know you'll keep it civil.