Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.
I don’t think there are any children out there that do not like the winter holidays whatever they celebrate. The feeling of comfort and joy, the warmth of family in the midst of the cold season can only be an absolute highlight. For us, it was Christmas that was celebrated and it was always, always magical. Here in Germany, Christmas is celebrated three days long, starting with Christmas Eve, when you get the presents and followed by two days of family meetings and meals. For us, preparations started weeks before Christmas itself. The house was decorated with evergreens and red boughs and candles and nuts.
Every sunday before Christmas, another candle was lit at the advent wreath, marking yet another week closer to the big event. Every day in December, another door opened at the advent calender and when you are sure you can’t really wait at all that long, at the 6th December Saint Nicholas brought treats and cookies and small gifts to sweeten the wait. We baked cookies – most importantly Vanillekipferl, crescent-shaped almond cookies, powdered with vanilla sugar, and we baked lots and lots and lots of them. No day went by when we didn’t eat some, making christmas time inseperable with the smell and taste of vanilla and the green pine scent. The week before Christmas Eve, my siblings and I were no longer allowed to enter the living room, where my mother set up the Christmas tree. The house we lived in until I was eleven had a glass front right next to the door, but it was cut glass, so the only thing you could “see” were shadows and light and colours. We were always lurking around at the glass, trying to see something of the tree, of presents, of the beauty of the decorated room – never actually seeing anything but never giving up, as only children can do.
Then the big day came. In the late afternoon there was church and then came the most challenging time: waiting until Christ Child had been there to deliver our presents. We had to wait in our play room, where we couldn’t concentrate on any game, jumping at every noise coming from the direction of the living room. It was already dark outside, the air filled with the faint glow of snow, the streets decorated with lights, nobody to be seen. And then, then, finally, the bell. A beautiful, tiny, clear chime, calling us. We rushed to the window, trying to see Christ Child fly away, as we knew, Mom only called us with the bell when it already left. We never managed to actually catch him, though – maybe because we never were really patient, because there were presents to be found! We gathered at the door, where, unfailingly, lay a single white feather that Christ Child always left behind from one of his wings. Behind the cut glass, the warm, twinkling lights of the Christmas tree were finally to be seen, glowing and promising. A last task was to be fullfilled: to sing a christmas carol. And then, then it was finally there: the big moment.
The door opened and there it was, full of light and red and gold and white, set withing the dark green of the Caucasian fir. There were no other lights in the room but the candles of the tree, bathing everything in its warm gold. And beneath the tree, the presents waited. Oh joy. To this day, even when I’m no longer celebrating Christmas in my own little family, Vanillekipferl are the one thing I can not go without in winter and it is something I hope, my boys will one day connect with Yul and winter and beauty and warmth and celebration.