In the late 1940s, my family of four lived in a small walk-up attic apartment above my grandparents in Freiburg, Germany.
This was shortly after the end of the Second World War and living space was in short supply because so much had been bombed out.
In 1945, my dad, who could build anything, converted part of that dark attic into a bright kitchen, living room and bedroom.
“Never ask permission; always ask forgiveness,” he would explain when I was a teenager and asked for details. Because of the housing crisis, people could not be evicted once they moved in.
“And that was that” is how he would end his tales.
Our three-storey walk-up was one of several austere tenements in Hirtsberg (Shepherd’s Mountain) on the edge of the Black Forest. I still recall watching from our attic home the wandering shepherd and his flock.
It was an idyllic setting next to a meadow, canal and river.
Each Christmas Eve, our parents would get the tiny living room ready for the evening festivities. The parlour stove was lit while my brother and I sat in the even tinier kitchen and listened to radio Christmas plays.
Mom would suddenly burst into the kitchen, telling us to hurry. The Christkindle (Christ Child) was here. No matter how fast we were, all we ever heard were tingly silver bells and saw what Christkindle left for us — a Christmas tree on top of the table, decked in silver tinsel and silver ornaments with lots of burning white candles.
There were also several presents under the tree. But opening them had to wait until we all finished carolling. My Opa (grandfather) was in a male choir, so he insisted we sing first.
We played with our few presents for a month or two, then they would disappear. The next year, my doll would re-appear with brand new clothes and my brother’s wagon was a different colour. At ages two, three and four, we were again delighted with the nuts, oranges, doll and wagon the Christkindle brought us.
Years later, we moved to Squamish and gave our Christmas Eve tradition a local flavour.
I’d take my small nephew, Jared, and little daughter, Deidre, for a walk in the treed neighbourhood. We would scan the sky for Santa and his reindeer. We’d hear bells, but, again, never saw them.
But we did hear my mom call and shout that Santa had come. Jared, Deidre and I would hurry back and arrive to Christmas music on a record player and a huge tree shining with white electric lights, tinsel and red and silver tree balls.
We rushed through several Christmas carols.
Only then could we open the presents.