When I was little girl, I could never quite understand why most of my friends had their trees up and decorated before Christmas. You see, in our family Santa (or Father Christmas) brought the tree… the very best tannenbaum ever! My mama grew up in a home where German was their first language… so I think the first words I ever learned was Pas auf (I’m not certain of the exact translation, but whenever my grandma or mama used that term, I knew I was in trouble!) I was a bit naughty… but somehow never got on Santa’s “naughty list”! It’s truly a wonder that I never got sticks in my house shoes (another German tradition). But enough about that! Please indulge me a bit as I think back on all my memories of our beloved Christmas tree. Did you know that the Christmas tree tradition came from Germany? It was almost sacred in our home… after all it does represent everlasting life.
On Christmas Eve, we would get all nestled down, snug in our beds with visions of pfeffernüsse (a favorite German cookie) floating in our heads! The magic of Christmas morning for my sister, brother and I as we waited to hear Santa’s bells was beyond anticipation! When we heard those jingle bells we knew Santa was departing for his next house, and our glorious Christmas day could begin! I’ll never forget the sights, smells and sounds of this most perfect day of the year! When I think of the countless hours spent by my mom just to bring us such a world of wonder! It was magical, our Christmas tree – our Tannenbaum… standing there all aglow with lights and beautiful ornaments, manyof which were passed down from our German ancestors.
Each year, as was in my mother’s home, each child received an ornament to hang on our tree. So needless to say, we are truly never in want for more tree decorations. I still remember seeing my unwrapped doll and my brother’s erector set under the tree in an early-1950s Christmas. Santa never wrapped his presents. Fazy, our little wire-haired terrier, joined in the celebration.
When we grew up, my mom still insisted on staying up late to surprise us with the tree. It was tradition that on each Christmas morn, we would hold hands and sing as we surrounded our Christmas tree, always beginning with “O’ Tannenbaum”! We then all chimed in to sing “Stille Nacht” for baby Jesus! After enjoying our hearty (Germans know how to enjoy food!) morning meal together, it was finally time to open our gifts…. the excitement building.
As I mentioned, my mother’s family had a tradition of giving an ornament to each child on Christmas; these usually hung from our stockings. I kept that tradition, so our tree of this year is full of antique and modern ornaments, each with it’s own memory to tell. My favorite ornament is from my great-great grandmother’s tree. I often imagine the candles burning on her tree in Germany… of her family singing and filling their home with all things Gemütlich!
In the following photos, the first heirloom ornament is a dirigible (hot air balloon) ornament which hung on my great-great grandmother’s tree in White Russia. The second is a sailboat from Berlin, Germany in 1903 when my grandparents immigrated to America. These ornaments always have a prized position on our tree!
Now that our children are grown, we have our annual family Christmas tree decorating party each year. It’s usually the second Monday in December. Funny how it doesn’t bother me that our tree isn’t up the day after Thanksgiving. My joy comes from watching our children and grandchildren grab a particular ornament and exclaim, “Oh, I remember this one… I love it so!”
Our Tannenbaum just makes us happy and joyful. When we look upon our tree, we see our Savior’s love in ever part!
Family Christmas traditions always are a highlight of the season… it’s one more way we gather close to our loved ones and enjoy warm memories, both present and past! What are some of your favorite traditions? Id love to hear!