Finding Sylvia – Frohe Weihnachten

As a child, winter was special as it meant that Christmas was coming. Having German born parents meant keeping all the traditions that were German. Christmas started at the beginning of December and we celebrated Christmas on the 24th.

The start of baking traditional German Christmas cookies started at the beginning of December. My brother and I also received the chocolate Lent calendars that began December 1st. Each day we opened up a section of the calendar that revealed a chocolate until the 24th. They were wonderful German chocolates that were so delicious.

My mother started baking Christmas cookies that my brother and I loved. She tried to keep ahead of us eating them all but she did manage to put a fair amount to the side for Christmas day,

The house was filled with German Christmas songs and my father had a beautiful tenor voice. He sang along with most of the songs and I was enthralled. My brother and I grew up knowing all the traditional German songs. I think “Leise reiselt der Schnee” (quietly falls the snow) is my favorite.

Christmas Eve day was magical. My brother and I were told that Saint Niklaus would quietly steal into the house to deliver the gifts as long as my brother and I were well behaved. Oh we were good. Our rooms were spotless and the basement where we kept a lot of our toys was immaculate.

My mother always had goose for our Christmas Eve dinner along with potato dumplings and peas and carrots (from their garden). Dessert was stollen and cookies. Stollen is a German fruit yeast bread. To this day, I need stollen at Christmas time.

We would clean up the dishes and the kitchen then my mother would take my brother and I downstairs to watch the television and wait for the arrival of Saint Niklaus. Yes, it was my father who brought out all the gifts and made sure that we could hear his footsteps as he moved around upstairs. He managed to give a loud ho-ho-ho then stomped out.

My brother’s and my eyes were huge as we would listen to Saint Niklaus moving around upstairs. I think we both held our breaths the whole time. Could anything be more magical than that? I thank my parents for doing this for us. The wonder and excitement is something that I will never forget. Too soon we grow up and face the harsh realities of life and my parents made certain that my brother and I could be children through and through. I thank my parents for that special magic time.

Finally my mother would say that we could go upstairs and see what was in store for us. I don’t know how but when we went into the living room, the Christmas tree seemed to be even more beautiful. My parents were factory workers and they could not afford extravagant gifts but the gifts my brother and I received were special.

We would all open our gifts and then sit back and enjoy them while we listened to more songs. We were allowed to stay up for a while and then were ushered to bed. Falling asleep those nights were easy. I am grateful that I was able to have such a childhood. How I wish it would be like this for all children and how I wish it would have lasted.

Finding Sylvia – Winters as a Child

Ah, winter. The smell of winter. The crispness of the air left your nose tingling. As a child, I loved winter. We would get snow in November and it would last until March. My parents weren’t too happy because it meant shoveling a driveway and then again once the snow plow went through.

But as a child, it meant crisp whiteness until February. Best of all, it meant that Christmas was coming soon. We were in the ultimate winter wonderland. Lots of snow meant no school and time to make forts. Go sledding and skating. Usually our street froze over and we could skate on it.

Our forts were spectacular. We would dig into the huge snowbanks on the sides of the road. Our friends would build a fort on the other side of the road and we would have wars. My brother and I had to protect our castle but try to take over the castle on the other side of the road.

Once one side had declared victory, we would go sledding. The farmer’s fields behind the row of houses opposite to where we lived had the most awesome hills. They always drifted over with the most spectacular drifts. Yes, as children, we would go in a group and sled to our hearts content. As long as our parents could hear us, there was no worry. For them or for us. It was so much more different back then.

When weather conditions were right, our entire street would be covered in a sheet of ice. Sparkles danced when the sun came out and shone on the ice like a mirror reflecting back colors. We would eagerly put on our skates. The boys got out their hockey nets and be world famous hockey players.

I couldn’t be bothered with that. I was a figure skater, don’t you know? We taught ourselves to skate and we were pretty happy with what we could do. I would pretend to do difficult spins and jumps. Actually, on the uneven surface of a gravel lined street, it was pretty difficult to just skate forwards. But I managed skating backwards and doing, what I thought, was intricate footwork and spins and spirals.

Our imaginations were wild and free. It was unlimited and we were allowed to be free spirited and child-like. Whatever we chose to do, we would check with our parents first and then go off on our adventures. We did have to check in with our parents but that was the only limit. We had our imaginations and that was all we needed.

What Does Christmas Mean to You?

I am in Canada with my oldest daughter, Veronika, and my granddaughter, Eliora as I am writing this. My youngest daughter, Natasha, is also here with us. Unfortunately, my husband, Bill, could not get the time off to be with us.

Christmas will be different for all of us this year. Although, Christmas changed dramatically when I made the decision to leave my, now ex-husband of thirty plus years in 2013. We did manage to share Christmas together with the entire family (son, Peter and daughter-in-law, Carol included) in 2013. Then the following years, the children did Christmas with their father and then did either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day with me.

Veronika and Eliora will be leaving December 23rd to meet Veronika’s husband, Joe, in the Netherlands and they will be celebrating Christmas in the Netherlands. Peter and Carol can only get Christmas Day off from their work schedule. Bill is only able to get Christmas Day off as well. I decided to come up to Canada prior to the 23rd so I could get some time with Veronika and Eliora. Natasha has a break from her college program and is in Canada with us. Peter and Carol did take a long weekend and we all managed to get together with my parents and had a small Christmas exchange.

Veronika, Eliora, Natasha and I also got together with very close family friends last weekend for a Christmas celebration. My parents and brother were also there. It was wonderful to see everyone and be with the babies.

My daughter-in-law Carol, is not happy that she only has Christmas day off and is pretty depressed that she can’t be with family. I suggested, to my son, that they help out at a homeless shelter and he is looking into that. Natasha is going to be with her brother and sister-in-law for the week. I wish I could be with my son and his wife Christmas Day but the drive back and forth is not comfortable for us. I want to be with Bill. I have invited Bill’s sisters, brothers-in-law and nieces and nephews over for Christmas cheer.

But I will not have my children with me for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I am still not sure how I will feel about that. I am grateful that I could spend time with my parents and the children when I could. Family time is what Christmas means for me. This is my favorite time of year.

Yes, it also means the birth of Jesus and that is important to me. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son to us. We have watched many nativity stories and I have cried over all of them. This is the greatest gift of all. For all the Christmas wish lists that everyone makes up, the giving is more important to me than the receiving. So when God gave us Jesus, I can only imagine the depth of love God has for us. This is what Christmas means to me.

Joseph, What Did You Think?

I wrote this poem several years ago when I heard the song, “Mary, Did You Know?” I love this song. Then I thought about Joseph and what his thoughts might be.

Joseph, What did you think


Joseph, what did you think

When you discovered what they were saying about Mary

What did you feel

When you thought she was to be yours

Only to hear that she may have broken your trust

You were to be her protector

You were planning a future with this woman

Who was not what you thought she should be

Were you angry and filled with sadness

Over a future that would no longer be

How your heart must have ached

Then what did you think

When that angel came to you

And let you know that out of all women

Mary had been chosen to be the one

How did you feel knowing what was to be

What did you think

When others scorned you and ridiculed the situation

Not having the same faith and trust

That you and  Mary now had

The steps you had to take each day wondering

Then what did you think as the months went on

Watching Mary’s belly grow with a child

Not yours, not hers

Nor would it ever be

You and Mary being human

And this child was the son of God

Did you wonder what you could teach this child

Did you ever wonder what would this child think of you

Did you dream of what you could do for this baby

Did you wonder how you would protect Him

Was there fear, was there even a little bit of anger

That your lives had been so changed

Or could you think about how so much would change

With this one small child

Was your faith that strong and sure

When you finally held the son of God in yours arms

What did you think?