For most people, their childhood Christmases are amongst their fondest memories. We spend our adult lives trying to live up to the magic and splendour of the experience, often (and sadly) missing the mark, creating stress and arguments in the process. The reason I look back fondly on my childhood Christmases is because we still spent time together as a whole family; my granddad was still with us and my dad and mum not yet divorced. The presents, food, entertainment and decorations were all secondary to the feeling of being together. So I’m taking some time out, in the midst of the present Christmas hustle and bustle, to relive and rekindle the spirit of my childhood Christmases.
Regardless of where we were living at the time (UK or Germany), we would always drive to Germany to spend Christmas with my mum’s Polish parents. In the continental Christmas tradition, we would celebrate on Christmas Eve, 24th December. Even though I now celebrate Christmas with a British family on 25th, Christmas Eve still holds a special place in my heart. I was always excited to get time off school for the holidays and strangely looked forward to the long drive from the UK or the other side of Germany where we lived. It was often cold enough to have snowed before Christmas in Germany, so my grandparent’s street and garden would often be covered in white making it feel beautifully seasonal.
As soon as we arrived there’d be fussing and lots of noise. We’d be pressed into eating platefuls of homemade turkey noodle soup to tide us over to Christmas Eve dinner. My grandma would make the soup in advance with the turkey giblets which my dad was always forced into eating afterwards with a pot of mustard on the side. I loved the noodles in that soup and the saltiness of the Maggi seasoning that my grandma put out to accompany it.
Once we’d eaten, we children would start clamouring to decorate the real Christmas tree that my granddad had set up in advance of our visit. There was nothing more exciting to me than dipping in and out of the old card boxes that held the precious and colourful old baubles, birds, pinecones and bells. My brothers and I would be left to decorate the tree, claiming our favourite bird of paradise, picking through baubles and throwing thin strips of silver tinsel willy nilly all over the tree. I love that we’ve kept these old family decorations and that a selection of them will decorate my own Christmas trees in the years to come. The tree being decorated, we would be bundled off to early mass with my grandma while my granddad stayed at home to babysit the turkey.
A children’s nativity and some very off-key singing later, we’d come home to old crooners and Polish Christmas songs playing on the sideboard record player and Christmas dinner would be ready. One of the adults would stay behind to eat with the children in the kitchen, while the others would eat in the dining room. Our Christmas feast would probably sound odd to most people but it’s all I knew for years and (mostly) I looked forward to it. For starters we would tuck in to my grandma’s homemade herring pickled in sour cream (which I hated as a child) followed by roasted turkey with boiled potatoes and sauerkraut. There was no formal dessert, like Christmas cake, but we were always richly rewarded with chocolates while we unwrapped our presents.
After turkey seconds my brothers and I would be pressed into helping clear the table and doing the dishes while sneaking impatient glances into the living/dining area and underneath the tree. We’d be asked to stay in the kitchen and were only allowed to come into the living room when we heard a little bell to indicate that the Christkind (literally meaning Christ child – our presents weren’t brought by Santa) had been (and gone) and delivered our presents. Cue excited children running for the living room barely missing the glass-laden tree, claiming our own piles of presents, unwrapping hastily leaving piles of wrapping paper all over the floor, and presenting our parent’s and grandparent’s gifts to them to unwrap in a more civilised manner at the dinner table. After all the excitement of gift-giving, the evening’s entertainment would often be concluded with TV or a board game and contentedly falling asleep in front of the sofa.
What’s your favourite childhood Christmas memory and what makes it so special to you? How do you try to recreate that memory in the present?