Christmas Memories

Joyce Friesen

A long, l0ong time ago, in the olden days, I was a little kid. And would you believe? … a skinny little kid, and it was always cold! We usually had our school program on Christmas Eve, in the little village church in Newbergthal.

It was freezing cold outside, but the little church was warm and crowded with parents and grandparents and it smelled like pine needles and Christmas. We always had a real pine Christmas tree because poems and the plays where memorized and in High German and the focus was always on ‘das Christkindlein’, no on Santa Claus but on the Christ child, baby Jesus.

The children in those days were much more nervous about reciting their lines, than children are today, evidenced by little puddles on the stage. At the end of the program, the little pre-schoolers also got a chance to recite their verses, and they were very nervous as well.

Some would cry, others would chew on their braids or wrinkle up their clothes or try to stand on one leg. My little brother had wrinkled and pulled up both of this pant legs above his knees before he finished reciting his verse.

Some would recite: “Hier kommt ein kleiner mann,

Der noch nicht sehr viel kann,

Doch will ichs’ heute wagen,

Auch etwas hier zu sagen,

Ich wuensch euch allen glueck

Und das ist mein stueck”

But it was all worth the effort when we were given out little paper bags, filled with peanuts, an orange and sticky Kjressbae Kende, which were already covered with peanut mel.

Then it was time to go home and wait for Christmas. Morning came early at out house, usually it was still dark outside. The house was cold, because we didn’t have a furnace and there was little fire left in the ‘Warm Morning’ coal stove.

My brother and I would come downstairs, bodies shivering and teeth chattering, to look at our presents. There were not wrapped because I think scotch tape and wrapping paper probably hadn’t been invented yet either.

My favorite present I received as a child was my first pair of white skates. We had an open-air rink in the village, in Hamm’s cow pasture. You know, the kind of rink that freezes your toes till they’re as hard as golf balls and then you can’t feel them anymore.

And that is good, because when you can’t feel your toes you can skate for a long time. It’s only good until you walk home and sit by the Warm Morning for a while, and they start to thaw. Then you can feel them ‘really’’ good!!

The problem with my new white skates was that they were far too big on me. In the olden days parents always bought shoes and clothes…..and skates that were too big, so the children could wear them for years, and grow into them.

I didn’t know how long it would take for my parents to get back to town, to exchange my skates for smaller ones, and I wanted to go skating right away, so I kept them. And skated with them for 25 years, till I

On Christmas Day we always went to a family gathering at my Grandmas and Grandpa Epps, in Altona. We travelled in a one-horse open sleigh, the bells were jingling all the way, but I never sang “Oh what fun it is to ride…..” because we kids had to sit on the floor of the sleight under a blanket.

The blanket was made from the skin and hair of a horse……..a dead horse. It was dark under there and it did not smell very pretty under there. There was also a small metal suitcase filled with host coals to keep our feet warm. The five miles was a very long trip for the little kids under the blanket.

When we arrived at Grandma’s house, dinner was waiting. First the ‘Dads’ got to eat. Then the ‘Mothers’ ate out of the unwashed dishes that the Dads had used, and finally it was our turn. If there were several children in on family, some of them got clean dishes.

We ate ‘Plueme moos and gruff broot’. The city mice had led this country mouse to believe that eating brown bread would give you lots of freckles. I wanted freckles like my city cousins, so I ate brown bread.

After the meal, the children were sent downstairs to play. I didn’t know why we always had to play in the basement. “Oba ha wie jetoopt!” Now that I’m a ‘Grandma’ I know why it’s a good idea for children to play in the basement. After the dishes were done we recited our ‘wensches’ for the grandparents and they gave each of us a nice present.

It was important for us to get home before dark because the horses didn’t have headlights, and so we got back under that horse blanket again, and headed east out of town, on a lonely country road…..no other sleighs in sight.

All was cold and quiet, only the sleigh bells were jingling, when we came upon a large sheet of paper caught in a barbwire cow fence, beside the road.

It was flapping in the wind, making a lot of noise, and our horse panicked, and bolted into the opposite ditch, tore the harnesses and broke the ‘feebe stang’, and took off across the field, until it was out of sight. We were left behind, sitting in the sleigh in the deep snow-filled ditch.

Since there were no other sleighs around to hitch a ride, we had to walk back to Altona, and my skinny little legs were just freezing cold. That’s when I decided I would never again complain about sitting under a nice, warm, smelly horse blanket.