*Christmas Eve, literally Holy evening
Germans make a big thing about Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas Day. Growing up, we opened our presents on Christmas Eve, which is when German kids get them.
What about Santa, you ask?
Well, my sister and I didn’t believe in Santa by the time we were opening presents on Christmas Eve. Our English father had long gone and we were living with our Oma. I don’t really remember Christmases before that.
I really loved opening the presents on Christmas Eve. I hate waiting. So getting in early before all our friends and neighbours was great. From a parent’s perspective it must beat waking up at 5am to open gifts?
We had a tradition. We’d eat our Christmas Eve dinner, light candles and sing some carols. Then we’d open the presents. One at a time, looking at each person open a present to share in their joy.
My mother has always been a champion gift wrapper, putting much work into decorating the gift. Every present had tinsel or a small Christmas decoration or bows or ribbons. It made your heart sing to look at the gifts under the tree where they’d been for several days.
My mother would have been baking a storm for weeks, and we finally got to eat some of her German biscuits while opening the presents. Luckily my sister and I had different favourites so there were never any dramas about who ate which biscuit. (I still only want one present from my mother: my favourite biscuits. Is it my fault the ones I love are the most complicated to make?) I don’t bake, but do buy German baked goods. The older son loves Pfeffernüsse and Stollen. Not Christmas without either
Mr S hasn’t allowed the Christmas Eve tradition of gift opening. “We’re Aussies in Australia. We’ll do it the Australian way.” [pout] But The Dreamer expects the German dinner of German wursts, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. He was most disappointed when Mr S and I went into the city for dinner last Christmas Eve so I won’t make that mistake again.
Of course my childhood Christmas Eve was different from my mother’s. When she was growing up, the tree went up on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t standing there for weeks. It would be decorated during the day by the adults. The children would be let in the room in the evening to gasp at the beauty of the tree, lit with real candles. Then they’d eat, open a couple of gifts and go to church.
All traditions get a family twist. And all traditions change when people migrate to a new country. We never did the St Nicholas thing – chocolates on the 6th of December, which other friends with German parents did. Though that’d be because they were Catholics and we weren’t. (Luther wasn’t big on saints, you know.)
We may not have had chocolate on Saint Nicholas’s Day but we did have a Bunte Teller, a plate filled with chocolates. One each! A plate. Not a bowl. With chocolate coins, little foiled wrapped Santas, chocolate peanuts, jaffas, smarties.
That’s a tradition that I’ve continued. It’s not Christmas without a big chocolate plate to pick through to find your favourites. My boys no longer get their own plate – they’re not big on too many sweets now anyway – but there’s always one on the table.