For me it is the smell of Christmas which brings back childhood memories. I just have to walk past freshly cut pine trees to remember the ones we used to have. In the weeks leading up to Christmas my mother and I would make decorations, cutting coloured paper into strips for paper chains and crafting little people from pine cones, cotton wool balls, sequins and pipe cleaners. Christmas for me is always captured in the smell of pine and gingerbread. I do not have a real tree anymore, but I do bake gingerbread.
Long before our tree went up in the corner of the living room, Christmas carols would be playing in the shops and over the radio. These days Jingle Bells and Silent Night jar with our hot weather but every year I do dream of a White Christmas, just like the ones in my memories. When I was a child I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on the television. I remember them being shown on alternate years, but I cannot be sure of that.
Christmas Eve was set aside for decorating the tree and it was my job to throw the cool, silver strands of tinsel over it. The pine needles would sometimes prick my fingers as I guided the loops of the decorations over them. Presents were laid under the tree and I would surreptitiously feel them, trying to work out what was hidden beneath their wrappings. Then I would hang my stocking, set out the cookies and milk for Santa, and a carrot for the reindeers and jump into bed, determined to stay awake.
But sleep I did, although I woke at sunrise the next morning. I was allowed to open my stocking presents before anyone else was awake, but I had to wait until after breakfast for the rest of the presents to be distributed and opened. My father usually took the longest to get ready. I do not remember what we ate on Christmas day, but I do remember the sweet taste of the candy canes I always found in my stocking.
When I had children of my own, we decorated our Christmas tree at the beginning of December, but we kept one special ornament each to put up on Christmas eve. On Christmas morning we opened presents before we did anything else and I was almost as excited as my children. Their memories will be different to mine, and that is not a bad thing.
As for Christmas traditions – well, I am making my own – literally. I have begun to bake Christmas goodies every year for family and friends. Over the years, my travels to Germany whetted my appetite for German Christmas baking and I now bake pfeffernüsse, vanillekipferl, and stollen. This year I added lebkuchen to the list. As someone who is gluten intolerant, I have adapted the recipes to be gluten free and some of them are vegan.
Traditions have to start somewhere, don’t they? Merry Christmas!!!