Christmas was a very traditional affair for Lilo Rolf, 73, who lived in Germany as a child. Before Christmas Day, one room in the house was closed off to the children, and Lilo recalls being told by her mother that angels were busy decorating the Christmas tree in the locked room.
The children eagerly waited for Christmas Eve when their father would ring a bell to let them know the festivities could start. Lilo remembers fondly the excitement she felt when the french doors were finally opened to reveal a tall decorated Christmas tree with red candles and unwrapped presents placed beneath it, and Christmas music was playing in the background.
Red candles played a big part during this season. A month before Christmas, four red candles were placed on a wreath and one candle was lit each four Sundays before Christmas Day. The candles on the tree also provided great fun to the children as they would place bets on which candle would last the longest.
Before presents were opened on Christmas day, the family sung traditional songs, Silent Night being a favourite, and Christmas stories would be told before sitting down to eat a goose served with red cabbage and potatoes.
The presents of choice in those days were dolls and carriages for the girls, pewter soldiers for the boys and under the tree, each child would also find their very own plate of goodies containing chocolate, cookies, nuts and oranges. Lilo recalls her favorite gift very fondly: “During the war, you couldn’t get any dolls, and right after the war I wished for a doll and I got it!”
Resident of Sunshine Lodge Hilda Hutter, 97, remembers a very similar Christmas to Lilo’s as she too lived in Germany as a child. As per the German tradition, Christmas started on the 6th December, St. Nicholas Day. When the tree was being decorated by their mother, the children were asked to retire to their room.
“Seeing the Christmas tree all lit up was my favorite moment”, smiles Hilda. She and her brothers and sisters were lucky enough to occasionally be allowed to open their presents on Christmas Eve after midnight mass.
“We didn’t have many presents… but what we wanted for Christmas, we mostly got” explains Hilda, “and my favourite present was a Knirps umbrella, that you could fold and put it in your handbag”.
Under the Christmas tree, she too would find her very own plate filled with chocolate, an orange, a nice red apple and a handful of nuts.
“We didn’t have turkey, we had good roast beef and vegetables, and gravy and mostly we had really good vanilla pudding”.
She remembers the story her mother used to tell when the sky was red: “oh look, they are cooking the cookies, that’s why the sky is red.”
Oliva Rovere, resident of Sunshine Lodge, whose childhood Christmases were spent on a farm in Italy remembers a very different Christmas. La Befana, a good witch dressed in black, the Italian version of Santa Claus, was the one distributing the presents in wooden shoes children would place at the window.
“We were excited to find our shoe full of fruits, candies… and popcorn!” laughs Oliva. They were very poor, but there was a lot of excitement. “We waited and we were excited to see what we were going to get”, recalls Oliva.
It was also a busy time as altogether, there were 24 family members celebrating Natale, Italian name for Christmas, and they all enjoyed a festive lunch of turkey or chicken.
Another resident of the Sunshine Lodge, Claudia Lefferson spent most of her Christmases on a farm in Saskatchewan so enjoyed a white Christmas. She remembers fondly playing in the snow with her brothers and sisters, waiting to be called in when it was time to open the presents.
Her favorite memory was when her dad came back from Prince Albert one day before Christmas, with a little house they were not allowed to touch until Christmas. When the time came to open it, they discovered the house, made of chocolate, also turned out to be filled with chocolate.
Claudia remembers her best present very well: “a little camera, a Brownie 127.” Their gifts consisted of an item of clothing and a toy. Early afternoon, they would enjoy a festive meal of turkey, cooked in the wood stove, with potatoes and all the trimmings.
They spent the day playing with their toys. “We didn’t have any music though as we didn’t have electricity in those days”.
Eventually, her family moved away from the farm into a small town called Viscount, and closer to her great uncles and aunts. “This is my best memory, we were all together, I really enjoyed those Christmases, who knew if they were going to be here next Christmas? What was important was to be together, as a family”, she said.
All said they found Christmas a bit too big and too commercial nowadays…but it seems the excitement a child feels on Christmas Eve remains the most memorable moment of Christmas, were you a child then or now.