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Family Traditions: Christmas from Germany to Australia Fifty Years On from the Black Forest

Updated on December 4, 2012

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

The fresh pine tree reaches the ceiling
The fresh pine tree reaches the ceiling

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

Each bauble is etched in gold glitter with a child's name
Each bauble is etched in gold glitter with a child's name

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

Minnie taking part in the celebrations
Minnie taking part in the celebrations

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

Opa, third from the left, playing guitar at the base of the Black Forest in Germany in 1949
Opa, third from the left, playing guitar at the base of the Black Forest in Germany in 1949
The Black Forest today
The Black Forest today
Opa, today, still playing and singing, Happy Days
Opa, today, still playing and singing, Happy Days


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    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      8 years ago from Australia

      How lovely of you to comment Edelhaus. Isn't it wonderful to have two, or even more traditions to choose from and somehow combine them to make a magical time for everyone? My father is still flummoxed about the fuss we make, yet it is only because of him that it means so much.

    • edelhaus profile image


      8 years ago from Munich, Germany

      Beautifully written. We too, meld our holidays as I'm an American married to a German and living in Munich. I, as you also described, see it as the best of both worlds. Christmas in Germany (even if it's only in spirit) is absolutely magical.

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      8 years ago from Australia

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting oceansnsunsets. Sometimes we forget that something so ordinary has deeper sentiments. I am grateful for the time both my parents have spent in ensuring there will always be something special for us to pass on to our children.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image


      8 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Karanda, this was an enjoyable read! You really captured each of the senses as you were describing your family's traditions. It is an interesting story about how your father came to Australia and how life was there for him. Great hub!

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      8 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for reading Wendy. I have to say it was a lovely trip down memory lane putting this together.

    • Wendy Krick profile image

      Wendy Krick 

      8 years ago from Maryland

      Thank you for sharing your memories and pictures with us. Love it.

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      8 years ago from Australia

      Thanks MarieAlice. It is such a special time. We all try and make it home for Christmas.

    • MarieAlice profile image

      Maria Alicia Cardenas 

      8 years ago from Spain

      lovely hub.. lovely traditions...


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