Hearing my daughter shout from her room, ‘Mum, I just have to write something else on my list for Santa!’, made me think about how excited I used to be about Christmas.
I can still remember the best ever present I got from Santa or Christkind, as we say in Germany. When I was little, my whole family would come together to celebrate Heiligabend with my grandparents. Sometimes nearly fifteen of us squeezed around the table in the dining room, next to a tiny kitchen, in a two bedroom flat, on the fifth floor of a house with many other apartments, on a very busy road, a stone’s throw away from Düsseldorf Bahnhof.
In those days, I was the only grandchild in my family and sitting amongst the grown ups on Christmas Eve, eating, drinking and laughing, I became more and more excited listening out for the sound of the bell that would ring once Christkind had been, leaving presents and other wonderful surprises.
And then…at last, just after I thought it would never happen, I heard the ringing of a bell in the living room. First just a gentle little ring, but then it got louder. I shot up full of anticipation. The door of the living room would open and I saw my Opa closing the window, saying he just let Christkind out, as it was too busy tonight to stay.
And there …in the corner of the room stood the almighty tree, smelling of fresh pine needles and it was magically lit up by what seemed hundreds of real candles. Tradition was to stand in front of the tree and to sing at least three Christmas songs; ‘Oh Tannenbaum, Stille Nacht, Alle Jahre wieder’ and there was an air of peace and appreciation amongst us, as the warm light of the candles reflected on our faces whilst we were singing. But I could not stop myself from searching the low lit room, trying to find out where my present would be hiding.
On one particular Christmas night, I could not see anything wrapped up for me. I looked and looked, even after all the singing was done, and the lights were switched on again. I panicked, could it be that I had been forgotten? By the window was a long table with decorations, presents, cakes and oranges, apples and nuts, but my present was not there. I turned around and my Opa took my hand and pointed to a big item covered with a blanket under the tree. It was enormous, I knelt down and suddenly the room fell silent. I carefully lifted the blanket and could not belief what I saw. A beautifully decorated dolls house, four rooms with handmade furniture and dolls!
In fact the whole house was made by my grandfather and the rest of the family. I looked up and saw tears in my Opa’s eyes and I knew this was a very special moment. I can remember many wonderful presents I received throughout the years, big expensive ones, but this one, which my family made, as money was tight in those days, was the one I loved the most.
Now, being a mum myself, I realise that finding Christmas presents for my daughter has turned into a more soulless exercise, as I sit at my desk making a list of presents that I can get from local businesses rather than ordering things through Amazon. Remembering the best ever present I got, I promise myself and my daughter that at least one gift will be something I spend time making, myself. I understand now that the greatest gift I got all those years ago was the time my family managed to find for me.