Christmas is always a time to reflect and my 60th Christmas makes it even more poignant. They say Christmas is for children so it is my childhood I think mostly about at this time of year, I was very lucky I had a wonderful childhood with two marvellous parents Margret and Nobby.
Christmas for me and my Brother Norman was different to all the other kids because of my mothers back ground being German both she and my dad wanted to maintain her German heritage. Both Parents made it quite clear that despite the Second World War we were to be proud of our German ancestry, this was not always easy, remember I was born in 1950 just 5 years after the war had finished. There was still a lot of hatred to us Kraut Half Breeds us Nazi Bastards but thankfully it is not in the English Nature to harbour ill feeling for long. My mother commented that when she first walked down Sittingbourne High Street all eyes were looking at her with disdain until one of my dads friends saw him and shouted across the road “Nobby who is that lovely Fraulein on your arm” he then went over and kissed her, it seems as though this was an acceptance by the majority from that moment on mum new she could call England her home. Mind you when Germany play England having a German mother was not the best thing in the World especially when one matched was being shown on TV in our local The Beauty of Bath and when Germany won she picked up a mini Trophy lifting it above her head, I remember Nobby saying to her “That’s not the thing do”. Another interesting point was that the Germans were condemned for being to military yet she said when she came here nearly everyone had uniform, Scots, Guides, Cubs, Boy Brigade, Postman. Gasman, Telephone engineer, Usherettes, school children, Electric Board, train drivers, bus drivers, Railways etc it surprising how a new set of eyes see things differently
Any way I digress Christmas for us Clarkes/Schuller family started on the first day of Advent when we opened door number 1 of our advent calendar, this may seem a common practise today but back in the fifties we still had to have advent calendars sent over from Germany. The next important day was the first Sunday of Advent where we would light our first candle depicting the light the birth of Christ would bring to the World, prayers would be said as we were all Catholics, my mother would insist taking me and my brother to mass every Sunday, Dad would not go his reasons he would not divulge. He told me later when I was old enough to understand. Once the prayers were finished we sung carols and my mother would sing German Carols her favourite was Silent Night (Stilla Nacht), when I hear this at Christmas it still brings some moistening of the eyes, because my mother is no longer with us but also happiness remembering all those lovely Christmases . On the Sunday’s of Advent there was a little treat of sweets and pop followed by an evening meal. The first Sunday also saw the start of the first Christmas decoration with a few German Christmas ornaments all Sundays from then on another Candle and a little more decoration, the forth Sunday was when all the decorations went up and that is when we got involved. Our house did not have paper chains or tinsel except for the tree we had greenery and this was the job of Dad and his sons to go to the woods on his old motorbike and sidecar and borrow some Fir tree branches, ivy and holly this would reverently returned to mum who done the final decoration. After the forth Sunday everything was ready for the real event.
In Germany the important night was Christmas Eve (Heiligabend) and this was different at our home, we would always have an elaborate meal ( sometimes 8 courses quality not quantity was the theme for Heilgabend )in the evening the only difference was in Germany it is traditional to have a Carp encased in salt and cooked. Each of us would receive one major present on Christmas Eve and then it would be bed, no matter how much we tried neither of us could keep awake till Midnight because as we all know at that magic hour all animals can talk that is if you believe. Once in bed we would put a big woollen sock at the bottom of the bed because Father Christmas or as my mother would say St Nicholas would always leave a few goodies before we went downstairs, it was strange for the one thing I can remember in my sock was a jar of Brylcream..
Christmas morning was soon upon us waking up at 5am on Christmas day was the norm for me and Norman but we were not allowed downstairs with out my parents, Dad would shout give me another hour, then we would have sit at the top of the stairs waiting for him to light a fire which seemed to take an age, then the door would open we would rush in where there would be two piles of presents one for each Son. The one Christmas I remember most is when I got a record player and my first Rolling Stones LP or could it have been when I got my first bike? I suppose we must have had a breakfast but I can not remember it was t exciting even I could not think of food, late morning we would visit the neighbours and they would return in the afternoon and then came the traditional Christmas Dinner but our choice was Chicken in the 1950’s Chicken was still considered a luxury as I got older my appetites grew as did my size at 15 I was 6ft 2inces and weighed 15 ½ stone, eating a whole chicken by myself was not unusual. When we were in our teens all my friends would come round Christmas night all the booze and food were left in the back room, Dad would say I am not a servant you want something help yourself.
By the time I reached my late teens things had change but the recipe remained nearly the same accept Christmas morning was accompanied with a hang over. Every Christmas Eve I would meet with the same group of friends, this continues till this day we have called ourselves the Christmas Eve Club. No matter how much drink we had we would be home for 5.30pm for mums Christmas Eve, even though both my brother and myself were always drunk we never upset mum in fact she loved it she would say “I Love seeing my boys happy” normally in German. This carried on when we got married and had children until Mum died in 2004 and in a lot of ways Christmas for me Christmas died with her.
I kept up a lot of the traditions with my own children but they would have three days of Christmas Presents Christmas Eve at mums, Christmas Day at home and Boxing Day at the In Laws. All though I still enjoy Christmas and enjoyed my children’s Christmases my very best Christmases were when I was a boy with mum and dad.
Happy New Year to all of you