by Victoria Caudle
We were a military family. I was 4 years old when we moved to Germany. Instead of living on the military base, we lived in the German village of Speicher to experience the culture. Parts of Huckleberry Country remind me of Speicher. We lived there until I turned 9.
The Germans celebrate the Advent of Christmas with reverent passion. December is filled with rich festivities; but, it is in remembering the spirit of giving and charity leading up to Christmas I cherish most.
Speicher was surrounded by forests controlled by the Waldmeister — or forest meister. Dad would load all six of us up in the car with an axe, a rope, and some beer. The beer was a cheerful bribe for the Waldmeister to turn his head while we picked and chopped our tree. It was just how it was done. Mom helped us craft homemade ornaments; but, our tree was mostly adorned with love.
Each day leading up to Christmas, we gathered excitedly in the kitchen to open our Advent Calendar windows to see what surprise waited. It was always a piece of chocolate, always; but, knowing ahead of time didn’t diminish the thrill.
December 6th was when Sankt Nikolaus, or St. Nicholas, came to town. It was the events on this day that left the most impact. We prepared food and gifts to donate to the orphanage and needy. I remember the joy knowing I was making another family or child’s life a little happier and being taught to be grateful we had enough to share.
Horse drawn wagons weaved through the cobblestone streets with carolers singing “O Tannenbaum” and other German Christmas Hymns while Sankt Nikolaus led the procession on foot, his beard blowing as he carried his bishop’s miter, dressed in a richly embroidered robe. Everyone came out of their homes to witness the display and to place the donations of foods and gifts they had prepared into the wagons. For me, it accentuated the purpose of Christmas — that the baby Jesus came to give.
When Christmas Eve arrived, the “kinder,” or children, worked fastidiously to clean and polish their best pair of shoes. The shoes were carefully lined with aluminum foil to be placed on the front door stoop before bedtime. If you had been disobedient or if your shoes hadn’t been cleaned well enough, you would find the dreaded cold black coals in your shoes left by Hans Trapp. But, if you had been good, you would open the door Christmas morning to find your shoes stuffed with delightful German candy!
At midnight Christmas Eve, we’d make our way to the cathedral for mass to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus. Immediately following service, we returned home to enjoy a late, late holiday snack of German cold cuts, brotchen bread, and Eierpunsch (eggnog). It was the only night of the year we were allowed to stay up past midnight.
Each year at Christmas, I look gratefully back to have experienced an entire town united as one in the spirit of Christmas and remember how good it felt to give.
My parents had indeed instilled in us to be charitable and to always look for the opportunity to give to those who had less. But, as an adult I experienced my greatest revelation in discovering that while we were living in Germany, we had been considered to be a poor family — we were a family of 6 living on the wages of an Airman First Class of $78 per month. Yet, I never knew we were poor. My parents understood teaching us kids the true spirit and meaning of Christmas is learning that it is in giving that we truly receive.