It was my dad’s birthday this week and he would have been 83 but passed away this January. This song is significant to my family as our dad used to sing it to us when we were children on Christmas eve. We celebrated Christmas and shared presents on Christmas eve following on from the European tradition and my parents added other fun traditions that made the experience of Christmas as real and meaningful as they could for me and my brothers and sisters. Traditions that my wife and I have continued with our children to this very day.
The reasons my parents chose to follow German tradition in exchanging presents on Christmas eve were twofold. First they could sleep in thus avoiding the din of five children at six am all howling “can we open our presents now”. Secondly and most importantly Father Christmas actually visited us on Christmas eve!
Our parents devised a cunning plan so we never saw him but we did hear him in the house.We would have Christmas dinner and when it was starting to get dark that would be the signal for the Christmas magic to begin. Dad would give us all set tasks to do in preparation for St Nicholas visit. We would lay out our pillow cases on the lounge chair, light incense cones (we had a wooden Santa that smoked a pipe and when you placed the Santa over the incense smoke rings would come out his mouth). My brother and I would put out on the table a small slice of Christmas cake and a miniature glass of beer. My older sister would light the “Weihnachts Glockenspiel” (Christmas Carillon) . After all these chores were done dad would shepherd us all into one of the bedrooms with warnings like ” Father Christmas will be here soon so we had better hide just in case someone has been naughty and he brings Black Peter. We were all sufficiently convinced that we had been good all year but just to be on the safe side we took our places in the bedroom (usually the farthest from the door) and waited.
It was at this point our mum would remember that the hose had been left out on the patio and she needed to move it otherwise Father Christmas might trip and hurt himself. This diversion gave my mum an opportunity to put the front door key in the letterbox and signal our neighbour to come to our house and fill the pillow cases while we all quietly hid. Maybe I was a bit slow on the uptake but I never figured out this ruse. Both parents in the bedroom with me? All my siblings with me? Then that must follow that it can only be Father Christmas in our living room!
Father Christmas would enter our house with a loud knock on the door. We could hear the clanging of bells and footsteps. Sometimes we could hear footsteps coming right up to the bedroom door then stop. It was at that moment I could feel my heart pounding so loud I thought he would hear me and open the door with Black Peter calling my name. Eventually the footsteps grew softer and with a loud bang of the front door slamming he left.
Mum and Dad would then banter together arguing whether the door really slammed and had Father Christmas really departed? Dad would say hush and we all listened intently. All we could hear was the soft ting of the bells on the Glockenspiel and smell the sweet smell of Christmas incense throughout the house. Dad would then say in hushed tones that we should softly sing a few carols so we are sure Father Christmas has left. We all sang Silent night, Come all ye faithful, and then dad would conclude by singing Oh Tannenbaum in German. When he finished he would tell us all how much they loved us and wished us all a blessed Christmas.
“Who is going out first?” my Father would bellow breaking the silence that all of us thought was the only thing separating us from Black Peter should he still be in residence. As my younger brother and I were by this time firmly rooted to the floor under the bed it was always left to my oldest brother to take one for the team and venture out first. The door would open and we warily tiptoed out to the living room to discover the cake eaten, beer drank, and five obese pillow slips with wondrous gifts from a saintly man named St Nicholas. After a short time we would then exchange our own presents that we had bought or made and play until late in the night.
My wife and I have carried on this tradition with our children. Every year we sent them personalised letters from Father Christmas with him telling them of their successes and triumphs throughout the year. I have lit the candles on the same Weihnachts Glockenspiel from my childhood and the same incense cones that my father gave me many years ago. Handmade stockings replaced the pillow slips though. We also sang carols and I told the Christmas story with the aid of knitted dolls made by their Grandmother. Beer and Christmas cake was left out and up until last year we were still hiding in the bedroom hoping Black Peter did not visit us instead.
My two youngest are now 12 and 13 and as you could imagine we don’t think we can get away with another year of make believe but what such joyous experience it has been. We have been watching their faces and sharing the excitement of childhood at Christmas time for over 20 odd years and it is the most cherished memory I have of my family. We even managed to get our 21 year old daughter to believe Father Christmas was real until she was 13! A rare thing in this day and age. I will looking forward to my children carrying on these traditions and sharing the joy in their children’s eyes in years to come.
Merry Christmas one and all.