Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Family Christmas in Germany

Advent is the Christian season that spans the 4 Sundays before Christmas. Advent means "arrival," or "anticipation." A time full of expectation, music, and Christmas decoration.
Marianne, our live-in kindergarten teacher taught us to create little baskets, stars and bells from shiny gold and silver paper. We explored the woods to collect acorns, hazelnuts and fir branches to create our special decorations.

We would gather for our family breakfast at 8:30 am. on Sunday mornings during Advent.
The table was decked out in white and silver, each place setting had a fir branch, decorated with the bells, baskets, stars and gold and silver painted acorns, hazelnuts and a tiny red candle - as festive as can be. After breakfast, the we marched as a family unit to church; kids in front, parents following.

And then came Christmas. Ooh!
Germany celebrates Christmas actually on Christmas Eve, December 24th.
There was a running and hushing and secretly sneaking all over the house. A trying to stretch and crick our necks to catch a glimpse of just the Christmas tree, which was
erected and decorated in the music room on the afternoon of the 24th. Never earlier!  

At 7 pm the entire family was dressed in festive gowns, the gents in Tuxedos or at least a dark suit, yes, the little ones too. A buffet of shrimp and smoked salmon, deviled eggs and caviar was served. There was also a punch or champagne…. and I would become tipsy late at night after I sneaked up and sampled those forbidden liquid fruits.
At last, the rush to our presents that were piled up like little mountains; a little mountain for each child, parent, and household helpers, our Oma, Aunt, and cousins all gathered in our music room. The hour up to exchanging and opening gifts seemed to last for an eternity.
But first, we had to sing. Mother in front and overpowering everybody with her admittedly good, but loud, voice.
Rita, my younger sister and I played the grand piano four handed. Christmas songs that we rehearsed with our piano teacher for weeks. Edith, the oldest, played the concertina, Bernhard attacked the flute and Mother even abused the violin.
And everybody sang to this cacophony – the room was lit by nothing but candles, everybody’s heart basked in a solemn but celebratory mood.
After at least five songs both Rita and I had to recite (by heart, of course) a Christmas poem. Bernhard was allowed to READ the Christmas Story from the bible.
“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem...”

Then, our performance duties complete, we were allowed to storm and take possession of our toys, new clothes, books and knick-knacks.
Gifts for our parents HAD to be hand made by us, and therefore were always somewhat awkward.

Come 11 pm though, the complete family, sporting either new coats, hats, shoes or gloves, most of all wrapped up to stay warm, strolled to church again. Time for Midnight Mass.
Germany celebrates two Christmas days – the so called 1st and 2nd when all stores are closed, they are Sundays and one ws required to go to church. It was just bad luck when  the 24th fell on a Monday because then we had to go to church on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday AND Wednesday.

On the first Christmas Day the traditional meal served was always a delicious crispy goose with potato dumplings and red cabbage as the main course, typically preceded by a soup before, and then completed with a dessert, after. Poor Mother and our household help! They had to produce a stupendous portion of dumplings, because we children would race to get the most of them, I remember, to this day, gobbling down as many as a dozen, and I am NOT making this up!

More will come!

Don't forget to hug your kids tonight! It's so important to tell your children that, yes, they CAN. I missed out on that :(
Please , sign up, become a "fan", follow me? Leave a message? Tweet it, click on +1 ...?? I'd be grateful. Thank you!

Johanna (YooHUNNa)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Fearing Father


My family's home was unimaginably formal. When Father came home from work at 12:15 to attend our 'midday meal' he changed into a house jacket that was soft and comfy yet still formal and presentable enough to welcome unannounced visitors.
Saying 'I love you' to one another or even hugging each other was neither heard or seen.
Displays of love and affections were not in the equation of the Koziol household.
To the contrary - I respected Father to the point that I feared him.
Hearing Father's huge bunch of keys rattling when he walked in the house, I always scrambled: 'Quick, quick, give me an apron' - that I would look busy in the kitchen or finishing the table setting. An apron had to be! Otherwise I could be seen as being lazy, although, I, too just came home from school or later on from work in my (Father's) company.
Appearing as if I had too much time on my hands or was not working on anything resulted not only in earning the evil eye but also an immediate order to grab a bucket and rag to clean this or that. Father always found something to do; yeah, especially for me.
I was dealt a bad hand at birth - I am the sandwich kid, remember? My two older siblings were not at home, Rita, my younger sister, was a wizard in the art of disappearing; Stephan was too young to be shooed around.
Besides, him being the smartest from baby legs on, he evolved to be a master at playing Houdini. Stephan was simply invisible far into his adulthood when he all of a sudden appeared out of nowhere, played foul, stole Father's company and my sister's and my rightful inheritance.

But THAT is another story!

Father was called 'Chef' between us kids and our household fairies, even my mother chimed in when he was out of sight. We didn't talk about Father, but 'Achtung! (Caution!) THE CHEF is on his way'.
A 'Chef' in German has nothing to do with cooking at all. A 'Chef' is THE BOSS.

He would become very angry when he heard us referring to him as 'The Chef',
and fulminate: "There are 500 workers in the factory that must call me 'Chef'. But there are only 5 people on this earth that may call me Father. I demand that you call me that. I am not your 'Chef'"

Thereafter, as long as he lived I respectfully called him 'Father'. We had no permission to use somewhat softer names like Dad, Daddy, Papa or such.

Oh, and was HE a Preacher!
Never ever did I hear a sentence like: 'Well done, Johanna.'
Never ever did I get any praise. Doing things right was assumed thus no reason to waste a word over it, besides, wasting chatter was strongly being frowned upon.
But I, the tomboy, was prone to always doing something wrong. Inevitably came the sermons. Hours long in the evenings, not to waste work-time during the day.

Father scolded me (sometimes all of us) endlessly by repeating over and again his childhood stories, how he and his Mother had to work so hard, how he made it where he was today, how bad I am behaving, how irresponsible my deeds are, and in summation that I am not good for anything. Whatever I brought up, ideas or otherwise, his answer was: 'ACH! (Dear me!) Jo-HAN-na! Stop! You can't do it anyway!'
It haunted me throughout my life. "I can't do it. I can't do it anyway."
I will never know how I produced all the water for my never ending stream of tears during those preachings.

More will come!

Don't forget to hug your kids tonight! It's so important to tell your children that, yes, they CAN. I missed out on that :(
Please , sign up, become a "fan", follow me? Leave a message? Tweet it, click on +1 ...?? I'd be grateful. Thank you!

Johanna (YooHUNNa)