no, no… don’t eat *these* brownies!

by jani on December 19, 2012

Definition:  Brownies –  tiny elf-like creatures who come from my grandparents native Germany. They’ve followed our family over to their new land, our United States. They’re very busy helping Santa on Christmas Eve. Hence, from December 21-23 they fill our children’s house shoes, which have been carefully placed in the window sill. If a child has been very good, upon awaking in the morning, there is generally a tiny chocolate treat or miniature ornament left inside of their slippers… such delight! “Mommy, mommy, mommy… look what the brownies brought! They even left a note in their tiny writing!” But, if the child has been naughty, the Brownies leave a small stick. Ouch!

These tiny little ornaments left by the Brownies were displayed each Christmas. Of course my favorites were mine. I have been fortunate enough to have in my assortment of Brownie treasures, two from when my Mama was a wee child. The little elf looks just like what I envisioned my Brownies looked like. That, and the little “Villa Amor” tiny house just behind the elf were found in my mother’s house shoe in about 1929! The little girl with the pink dress was found in my house shoe in 1960. I was 12 at the time and just as excited as ever to see what my Brownies brought – I’ve never outgrown the enchantment of the Brownies!

Each year we let our grandchildren set out all of our past Brownie trove! They delight in picking up each tiny gem and studying before they place it just so!

Each family member… young and old… takes pride in our Brownie display!

I don’t know if this is a family tradition or if all German families have heard of the Brownies. What we do know is… We. Love. Our. Brownies! They aren’t “Elf on the Shelf”, causing all kinds of mischief – they’re just loving, tiny elves (actually they’re much smaller than “Elf on the Shelf”) that  have been in our family for generations.

I’d love to hear more about your special Christmas family traditions!


our very cool tannenbaum!

by jani on December 14, 2012

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!