posted by Jeanne Munn Bracken
Many of our beloved Christmas customs originated in Germany--the carols, the decorated tree, and everybody who went to my school in the 1950s knows the story of Hans Gruber and the mice in the organ and how "Silent Night" got written.
Although I love traditional family Christmas "stuff", I have always been drawn to Germany. When I had to research and write about a country in 6th grade, I chose Germany. That was before the two sectors were walled apart. I would never have remembered this, but my mother kept that report and gave it back to me when I was packing to go to Germany for my junior year from the University of New Hampshire. (Yeah, Mom kept stuff, but it's not like she was a candidate for "Hoarders" or anything.)
I spent that junior year in the old city of Marburg an der Lahn, about 90 kilometers north of Frankfurt. It was before the days of email and cell phones and instant communications, and since I was a scholarship student, I couldn't fly home for the holidays. Some of my fellow UNH group also stayed in town for Christmas and we decided to make the best of it.
We planned a special meal for Christmas eve, forgetting that everything would have to be prepared on a hotplate. I was astounded that one of my friends, albeit not known for her culinary skills, managed to screw up the add-water-and-make-cream-sauce frozen peas and onions.
I bought a little live Christmas tree and had to get it across the city to a friend's room. It rains a lot in Germany, and Christmas Eve afternoon was no exception. It absolutely poured. (I used to quip that the cities were built on hills to facilitate runoff from the torrents.) I also didn't realize that the buses would stop running, so I was lucky to get on one of the last ones with my tree. The Germans never could figure out what to make of us Americans, and that evening was no exception.
We all managed to gather, set up the little tree and decorate it with a few ornaments and, in the German tradition, with little candles that clipped to the branches. We put a few gifts under the tree and finally found enough courage to light the candles. Painfully aware of the fire danger, we admired the lovely sight for maybe twelve seconds, took some pictures, and (I swear I could hear a little crackling noise) blew out the candles before we caused a conflagration.
After dinner and our tree ritual, we went to a midnight service in a medieval church in the old city, up on the hill. The rain had stopped and as we passed a wing of the castle, we watched a man decorating a huge tree in his living room, and a light snow began to frost everything.
It was magic.