Christmas time brings back memories of my childhood and that of my children; memories of decorated trees, real trees adorned with real candles. I can even smell the fragrance of Christmas once again: bees’ wax and the delicious aroma of baking cookies. Most exciting for me was the secrecy that surrounded our German Christmas tradition. We celebrated on Christmas Eve. The living room was locked all day while the tree was put up and decorated by my mother. I wasn’t allowed to watch. I was an only child and the excitement almost killed me every year. From time to time, I detected conspicuous noises from behind the closed door─ that only added to the wonder of it all. Because somehow and sometime during the evening, Santa Claus would manage to arrive surreptitiously.
Since we didn’t have a chimney, I wondered at an early age how the big man would sneak into the flat. So I kept an eager eye on the comings and goings at that door. My parents mastered the art of hide and seek by pretending my father had to go out to buy some indispensible item for the meal; curiously, when it was about to fall dark. It was me to accompany him in the car because Mother needed to prepare dinner. The meal always consisted of fillet steaks and mushrooms in my house, accompanied by good German fried potatoes, and followed by some yummy chocolate pudding.
We drove through town for about half an hour; surprisingly we never bought anything. Well, the shops weren’t even open at that time. But as a little girl I didn’t know that. Store opening hours dictated that all the shops closed by 1 o’clock p.m. for the duration of Christmas (from 24-26 December). Yes, like many European countries, Germany has two full days of Christmas in addition to the big gift giving celebration on Christmas Eve.
I remember the crucial Christmas after I had just turned five. My big wish was a bike. While we cruised through my home town I saw several Santa Clauses in the streets in the dusk, laden with heavy sacks over their shoulders.
“Will Santa make it to our house in time if he is here, so far away from our street?” I asked my father anxiously.
“He always does”, my father answered laconically.
Something was still bugging me. “How come there is more than one out and about?”
My father didn’t hesitate with his answer. He was prepared for this question that had to surface one day.
“It’s impossible for one old man to visit all the children in the world. Therefore he needs many helpers. Think about it.”
I mulled things over, slouched in my seat. The penny eventually dropped. By the time we arrived, my excitement had waned. But there it was, my gleaming new orange-red colored bike under the sparkling tree! What a sight! “And you are his helpers too!” I exclaimed.
“Yes”, my parents admitted it. “Besides, how could one man afford all these gifts for all the children in the world?”
When I had children of my own, I anticipated their question and wanted to give them a similar answer. However, I was in for a surprise. Miriam was five and Christian almost three the year it happened. Being in kindergarten and talking to the other children, Miriam had figured out that parents were involved in the big mystery that surrounded Christmas. She approached me and suggested playing Santa Claus for her little brother. “I know he still believes in him, which, of course, I don’t, being so much older.”
When it started to get dark, she donned her red bathrobe that had a hoodie and put on her red wellington boots. Her father gave her the burlap sack he kept for harvesting potatoes. Kitted out like that, Miriam set off to walk through the garden. “Make sure he sees me!”
Christian was upstairs tidying up his room ─ a quintessential task for a good child to make Santa Claus come to his house. I looked out of the window ─ as if by chance. “Chris, quick, quick, come here! I don’t believe it! Look who is there!” And there he was walking below the window with the sack over his shoulder, Santa Claus!
Miriam kept a smug face all evening and guarded her secret so that Christian could believe for a little longer. His face was beaming with delight having seen Santa and he proudly told everyone for days.