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Family Traditions: Christmas from Germany to Australia Fifty Years On from the Black Forest
Family traditions formed a large part of my life growing up in Australia. But never more so than during the month of December. While English Christmas traditions were handed down from mother to daughter, on my mother’s side, my father brought his own, unique Christmas traditions from Germany to Australia. The tradition continues, fifty years on, because he was able to, not only share his precious memories, but inspire that same sense of wonder and mystique with his daughters.
Dad was only 19 when he arrived in Australia. He found himself in a new country, facing a 180 degree climate change with a culture to match. Life in Australia, was unlike anything he had experienced in Germany. He was young, a tradesman bricklayer and ready to work in a land that offered freedom. It was not always easy trying to be understood with his thick German accent as he struggled with the Aussie slang. But he loved the sunshine, the laid back lifestyle and what he describes as, good money for a hard day’s work. Five years later, he married my mother.
Opa Lights the Candles
From Germany to Australia he honoured the traditions of his family and as much as he was able, melded them into our Aussie home with a mother whose origins began in England. The traditional Christmas Day gatherings Mum remembered as a child, were part of the Christmas experience as we grew up. The exchange of gifts in the morning was followed by a hot lunch of beef, turkey, ham and roasted vegetables that finished with a rich plum pudding and custard.
But it is Christmas Eve, that is recognised in Germany as the start of celebrations. In my father’s family, his mother would take all the children to church in the evening. On their return home they would be surprised to see a fresh pine tree, adorned with tinsel and shiny baubles. Candles were placed sporadically around the pine needles and lit at just the right moment, so that the children would gasp with delight as they entered the dining room. An evening meal of thickly sliced cold ham, with two side dishes, a potato and green leaf salad was followed by a cheesecake for dessert. It was only after the meal had finished that the children would be allowed to open the presents that Saint Nicklaus had left at the base of the Christmas tree.
A Hint of Christmas Decorations
The amalgamation of two different types of Christmas celebrations from two cultures was a definite bonus for children. My father relived his own family memories from the Black Forest, complete with the distinct aroma of a fresh pine tree and lighted candles. Christmas Eve would be a day of anticipation and excitement. There were two rooms in the house that were off limits. The laundry, where the tree was sitting in a trough of water and the dining room where the decorations were being gently lifted from brown cartons and unwrapped from tissue paper.
As girls, we were expected to help mother in the preparation of the meal. It remained a simple affair, ham, potato salad and green leaf salad, but a few extra salad items were added through the years. Grated cheese and carrot, beetroot and hard boiled eggs sitting on top of crisp lettuce leaves. We knew the time was getting nearer when Dad finally emerged from the dining room to carve the ham. Each of us would hold a plate of food and line up from youngest to oldest in the kitchen. The glass door dividing the two rooms was clouded with cloth and hiding the surprises from within.
Silent Night by Bing Crosby, crooned in the background as we walked ever so carefully into a room filled with wonder. The aroma of the candles mixed with the scent of fresh pine was enough to bring our senses to life. It didn’t matter so much that the base of the tree was covered in brightly coloured presents with glistening bows, it was more the sensation of a room, transformed. We all knew it was Christmas and every moment that was to follow. The meal, the pineapple cheesecake, the carols in the background and, at the end of the evening, Dad would bring out his guitar.
Presents under the Christmas Tree
The Christmas Tradition Continues
“Happy days are here again,” Dad would sing in English then in German and we would sing along with him and ask him to play, one more time, before Mum reminded us, we needed to get to bed if there was any hope of Father Christmas visiting. The tradition has continued through the next generation with our partners and children lining up now, at the dining room door. The line has grown from three young girls to 14 men and women, who sigh with delight at the sights, sounds and scents of another Christmas, exactly the way we remember from last year. This is one Christmas tradition that has lasted through the years and across the continents, from Germany to Australia.
Copyright © 2010 Karen Wilton