Today is Pink Saturday, and sweet Beverly, at How Sweet the Sound, has asked us to share a favorite holiday memory with everyone this week. What a lovely idea, and a wonderful way to kick off the holiday season. I had such great time putting this post together for you! It was fun looking for images (credited to their sites or photographers), and I included one of my favorite pictures of my beautiful mother, my younger sister, and me, posing in a fairy wonderland of snow in Germany many years ago. I hope you'll enjoy my recollections of a very special childhood Christmas as much as I enjoyed writing it for you. (I even managed to sneak some pink in, too!) Sit back, relax, and come reminisce with me:
photo by Bjarki Steinbjørn Mikkelsen
It was the winter of 1965. My parents knew we would be returning to the United States the following spring, after having been stationed in Germany for five years. They arranged for us to spend a last splendid German Christmas in the snowy Alps near Garmisch. We would stay in the big, old Army/Air Force Hotel at the base of the mountains, near a ski resort and within walking distance of the charming town. With three small children under foot, it must have been quite a task for my mother to prepare for the trip. Nevertheless, she managed to pack all our winter clothing, the wooden sled, their skis and gear, and before we knew it the five of us were piled in the car on our way to the mountains. After driving for what seemed like forever to my seven-year-old-self, we finally reached our destination. We moved into the hotel for seven days: my parents, me, my two younger sisters, and a large and unwielding assortment of suitcases, hat boxes, coat bags and boxes, with bottle warmers, diapers, ski suits, extra blankets and toys, and a few bottles of good wine, tins of sardines and oysters, crackers, cheese, and champagne. My parents made new friends wherever they went, and they rarely traveled without bringing along plenty of supplies for an impromptu party. This trip would be no exception, and they hurriedly went about the task of unpacking and organizing our belongings in the small hotel room.
As a child, I remember being especially aware that we would not be home for Christmas, and I was very concerned that Santa would not be able to find us. My parents reassured me that Santa always knew where we were, and that he would find us at the hotel, no problem. But still, I worried. Besides, Christmas in Germany is a very big deal, there are always a myriad of beautiful decorations and many celebrations, and in our home we took our responsibility to honor Christmas traditions very seriously. How would we have a Merry Christmas in the sterile surroundings of a small, budget, government run hotel room? How would Santa know where to leave gifts if we didn't have a tree? What about our traditional "cold-plate" Christmas Eve dinner, and Christmas morning spent in our pajamas, eating breakfast rolls in our parents' room before we were allowed to venture into the living room to discover our bounty tucked under our always resplendently decorated tree? How could we have Christmas here, I wondered?
photo of vintage card by cbertel.
I should have known that my parents wouldn't let Christmas go by without our usual fanfare and celebration. When we arrived at the hotel, after the bustle of the unpacking and the settling-in to our temporary holiday home, my mother and the baby laid down for a desperately needed late afternoon nap. My Father bundled my sister and me up and took us out for a grand adventure. We were going to find a Hotel Room Christmas Tree! We walked through the snowy town, our cheeks pink and our breath puffing like smoke from our noses and mouths. In each lot we looked at tree after tree, but eventually discovered to our dismay, that each one was too large to fit comfortably in our rather tight quarters.
What were we to do? My father, in his broken German, explained our predicament to one of the gentlemen manning the tree lot near our Hotel. Quickly, someone was dispatched to the back of the lot, who promptly returned with an armful of lovely tree boughs. Each limb had been trimmed from larger trees which had been purchased earlier in the day and were awaiting their deliveries throughout the town. The man refused payment for the branches, wished us a “Frohliche Weihnachten”, and sent us on our way, our arms loaded down with fresh, fragrant, and, as I remember them, itchy, and very heavy, greenery. We struggled mightily to keep up with my dad as we helped him carry our "tree" back home to our hotel room, trudging through the snow in the cold, early evening twilight. When we returned, we woke my mom and baby sister and got right to work creating a festive and Christmassy ambiance in our room, which would be fit for the finest family celebration.
Daddy carefully arranged the tree boughs in a small waste-basket that he had filled with gravel from the hotel’s parking lot to keep the greens steady, and plenty of water to keep them fresh. He surprised us with strings of white lights he had hidden in an extra suitcase, which he then placed around the room’s large picture window. Mommy had packed gilded walnuts, and packages of foil-wrapped chocolates and cookies strung with ribbons that we balanced on the branches of the “tree”. We strung tiny, real, red apples by their long stems, and my mother very carefully hung glistening, silver tinsel, piece by piece, on the ends of the branches. We placed a Christmas tablecloth on the table in the room, and set out our advents wreath. Out of boxes and bags my parents arranged a small dinner buffet with delicious treats for us to eat. We lit candles and sang carols, and soon it was late Christmas Eve, and time for sleep.
We awoke excitedly the next morning to an abundance of gifts, all of them carefully wrapped and spilling out of new little red suitcases, one for each of us girls. Santa had managed to find us, after all! We ate breakfast Stollen and fruit, and drank hot chocolate as we opened our gifts, which my mother had so carefully and meticulously arranged and packed away, and managed to keep out of our sight until now. Later, we spent the day outside playing on the slopes in the snow, sledding and making snow men, and enjoying the frosty mountain air. I spent the day trying to stay balanced and upright on my new, wooden, red skis; they were just my size and one of my most wonderful and memorable gifts.
vintage card: blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings
But my strongest memory from that long ago winter trip is the sight of my tall and handsome Dad standing on a chair in a sweater and his winter ski long-johns, as he hung those strings of lights around the window. He leaned his long frame across the window, thumb tacks held tightly between his lips. He tacked up the light string carefully, balancing on the edge of the chair with one foot on the window sill. Then, when he was done, my mother smiled and turned out the lamps in our room. She lit the candles, and we gathered together at the window and looked out into the clear, moonlit night. The snow glistened silver on the ground and on the trees, and the mountains were large and majestic silhouettes in the distance. In our room, our little white lights twinkled and reflected like stars in the dark glass of the window. They lit up our private, family space in the hotel with a soft golden glow, as the candles cast dancing shadows on the walls and floor. I felt in my heart that I had been transported to magical, secret place, where we were all alone, just the five of us. I experienced intense feelings of happiness, wonder, love, warmth and security, during those thrilling moments spent gazing out into the fairy land of the Alps at Christmastime when I was little girl over 40 years ago. When I close my eyes I can imagine myself back in that small candlelit room with my parents and young sisters, and I feel the love and the joy of that moment once again, as deeply now as if I were standing there today.
Me, my mom, and little sister, Germany 1963
Well, there you have it. I feel like I've been back to Germany and revisited my childhood for awhile. Thank you, Beverly! I truly appreciate all of my blogging friends , and enjoyed sharing one of my favorite (I have so many!) Christmas memories with you. I'm looking forward to reading all of your stories, too.
I'd love it if you'd leave me a comment, and hope you'll return for another look around Heart and Home real soon.
Until next time