When I was a kid, we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve, Bavarian-style. I remember dressing up in my German dirndl dress and sitting with my mom and brother on the stairs while my mom read us a Christmas story from a big, red book. We were really antsy with anticipation of presents and a special dinner. There was a special Bavarian mountain club record that my mom would put on the stereo, with German yodeling songs and carols.
Part-way through my mom's reading of the story, my dad, who was downstairs, would ring a cowbell and yell out, "He's here! He's here!" And we would go racing down the stairs and into the glassed in porch to find the Christmas tree, that we had cut down from our back acreage and brought across the property on a toboggan, aglow with real candles. The lighting of the candles was always a mystery to me. Apparently, it was the Christ Child (Krist Kindl) who lit them. This was kind of a fuzzy image in my mind, because the image of a baby or small boy somehow got mixed up with the traditional American image of Santa Claus, and I was never quite sure whom I was supposed to be looking for as my dad called out that "He" was here and had lit the candles on the tree and brought the presents. (Come to find out, my brother, being two years older, knew for several years that it was my dad, not the Krist Kindl who was lighting the candles, but kept it a secret as not to spoil it for me.)
The best present of all was always a large box with pink butcher paper on it, and a string to hold it together. It was addressed in black marker, and had probably a dozen stamps on it with blue "Luftpost" stickers as well. It was a box from my grandparents in Germany. The other Christmas presents were great, but this box was truly special. There was always a Steiff stuffed animal for me, lots of chocolate, some model train kits for my brother, and hand-knit sweaters from Oma.
After opening presents, my dad was of course starving for dinner after embarking on process that took entirely too long. We would sit down at the table by the wood stove with our cozy new sweaters on and eat traditional Bavarian cold cuts, cheese, and fresh bread. My dad always had something gross like creamed, pickled herring (which I now, of course love!) and would try to get us to drink a special drink of red wine mixed with ginger ale (like a kids' wine spritzer?!?) that was totally gross.
Someone asked me the other day, "Well, if you celebrated on Christmas Eve, what did you do on Christmas Day?" We played with our new loot, of course! Oftentimes, after our cousins were done opening presents on Christmas Morning, we would meet up with them and go ice skating on the lake or cross country skiing in the woods or on the golf course. I remember the stark whiteness of the snow, the sparkling crystals, the clear blue skies, and the laughter.
Although my Christmases are quite different these days (there are no candles on the tree), I do try to keep some traditions intact. My brother and I typically celebrate with a Bavarian meal of cold cuts, cheese, and fresh bread. My sister-in-law's family celebrates together on Christmas Eve, so that tradition has changed for me a bit, but I think of it as an extended "Christmas week" in which the festivities are carried out for a longer period of time because the last few years we have celebrated together on Christmas night, the day after her family celebration. This year, I won't be headed up to Idaho to celebrate with my family until the New Year, which I'm really looking forward to. Hopefully I can get some skiing in with my brother and sister-in-law, and I'm sure the dogs will score all kinds of loot. Kitty won't be left out from the gift giving (or receiving), but she'll be guarding the house and taking cat toys (aka ornaments) off of the tree, no doubt.
Christmas time truly is a magical time of year. Full of thankfulness and giving. I am so thankful for everyone in my life and the good fortune that I have had. I am thankful for being able to give gifts to those whom I love and appreciate. I am thankful for the people who have mentored me, especially the ones who are not physically here anymore but who live on in my heart. I am thankful for having good friends and family who support me in everything that I do. I am thankful to those whom have been cruel to me, because I have learned so much from them on how not to live my life. I am so thankful for having two very strong legs to carry me wherever I wish to travel and for two happy dogs who remind me to smile, no matter what. I am thankful for a little black kitty who reminds me of a certain little gray kitty.
I wish everyone a peaceful celebration and a prosperous New Year.