Growing up, I lived with my mother and brother at the little house at the nursery still there today. Until I was 7 or 8, I was lucky enough to be right next door to my grandparents, Albert and Rose Behnke. But even after they moved away, I still saw them every day since they just moved to Burtonsville. This past weekend, I found myself talking about how we would celebrate Christmas for one reason or the other.
Living at the nursery, our customers always came first, so we would be open on Christmas Eve. While everyone was working selling those last Christmas trees and poinsettias, I would find myself in the kitchen with my grandmother helping make our Christmas Eve dinner. This, of course, involved Spritz cookies, German apple kuchen, and typically a beautiful crown roast (which I have never attempted to make by myself in my life). We also would make a gorgeous braided loaf of bread ever. There would be German music playing, and we would all have a wonderful time. But we were not allowed in the living room. At ALL!! The doors were always closed.
After going home with my mother and brother to get ready for the evening, we would arrive back at Oma’s and Opa’s (what we called my grandparents) and gather outside the living room doors. We would all sing Silent Night, and as we finished, we could hear the sounds of sleigh bells ringing and Opa saying “Goodbye Santa.” The door would slowly open, and there would be the most beautiful tree ever. I later found out my mother would somehow show up and help my grandmother decorate the tree. When I was a little older, I sometimes would help put the nativity scene under the tree, but always before it was decorated.
On Christmas Eve, we would enjoy presents and food and family. And…a smoked eel from Germany. Yum! (Years later, when my husband first spent Christmas Eve with my family, he was shocked at how we all devoured it. Poor guy thought the long white box Opa had him open was going to be a rose.)
It was then back to our little house, and my brother and I would be sent off to bed to dream of Christmas day. My mother would get us to sleep, get a beautiful Frasier Fir into our house, decorate it, and put all our presents under it for the morning. How she pulled it all off, I will never know. We must have been so tuckered out from Christmas Eve that nothing would wake us. Maybe my brother, who was four years older, knew the truth and helped mom after I went to sleep, but he never let on. To this day, I can still see a footprint in the fireplace ashes and, of course, the half-eaten cookie. But it was the Christmas tree that always made me just gaze. It was perfect. Tinsel hanging carefully off of each branch along with all the ornaments we had.
Our stockings would be filled to the brim hanging on the fireplace. We knew exactly what would be in them: Scotch tape, pencils, rulers, erasers, glue, and sometimes some candy. Christmas morning was always the three of us as far as I can remember. My grandparents would show up at some point during the afternoon to see our presents. I am sure that some years it was a little different, but for me, those were the memories of how we spent Christmas.
I find it interesting to share our family stories with others and hear how their traditions were similar or different. I never could quite get a handle on putting up our tree on Christmas Eve with my children, but we did keep some of the traditions from my family and added some of my husband’s family traditions to keep the holiday special. Now I am watching my children make their family traditions. The one constant thing is the love of family and being together, if not in person, then by phone.
I would love to hear about your family traditions. Please share them in the comments sections below!
by Stephanie Fleming, Behnke’s Vice President