The forestry department of Schleitheim always has a Christmas tree market the Saturday before Christmas. Reforested spruce stands are thinned out and the trees bring holiday joy. I bought two, one for Grandma and one for our little living room.
As Grandma and I hung shiny glass ornaments a neighbour popped by. “You’re trimming the tree already? Isn’t that a job for Christmas Eve?”
Traditionally in Switzerland parents trim the tree on Christmas Eve in the living room behind closed doors. After a special meal, the children are allowed into the Christmas room. They will light the candles and sing Christmas carols. The children will recite the poems they have learned in school or play a musical piece they have practiced. The father will read the Christmas story out of the Bible. Then finally, they will open the presents.
Changing cultures, values and separated families have created a different reality for many, of course. But the old traditions remain symbolic of a perfect Christmas for most Swiss.
I still needed a string of lights for my tree. The manager of the local UFA showed me a box. “That will be long enough for my little tree, I think”, I said.
“But you know this string is for indoors only?” he asked. Of course. Few people light the tree artificially. Even my daughter-in-law Jacqueline says they will use real candles.
The danger of a fire is rarely at Christmas. It is at New Year’s, when many light the candles one more time, that the now drying tree can easily catch fire. When I said something to Jacqueline, she said, “You just have to have a big pail of water nearby.” That brought back memories of Christmas when I was a child – and the pail of water my father always made sure was at hand.
I look forward to Christmas morning. Robert and I will join a group of early risers at 6 a.m. for the traditional Currende singing. Reminiscent of the story of the shepherds as they went back to their sheep, telling everyone of what they have seen in the manger, we will tour through the village, caroling as we go. Hot chocolate and breakfast will be waiting for us when we come back, before we go on to the senior’s lodge and care home to sing some more carols there.
I’ll cook a special dinner for our grown children and Robert’s parents – it won’t be turkey. Maybe roast pork, with pilaw rice, and brussel sprouts; orange crème and chocolate cookies to round out the meal, with strong coffee.
Then we’ll light the candles on the tree and sing “O du fröliche”. Grandpa, 87, will sing tenor, and Grandma’s once strong soprano will still hit the high notes. What makes Christmas truly special, anywhere in the world, is being together as family to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.