There is something about the holidays that conjures a temporary time machine. It has the capability to transport us back in holiday time. Trips down the holiday memory lane are not always pleasant for everyone.
For example, there is an evil demon whose sole purpose is to ruin happy occasion. If you doubt this, consider all the holidays when we lost loved ones. That blasted demon is so mean. But then, there is no customer service department in demon land. When you think about it, customer service on the human plane is lame and useless as well.
Some rich kids may receive lots of gifts but little family time during the holidays. And, the rest of us have varying degrees of happy holiday memories, with or without presents or even a tree.
Please join me on a journey into the past on my time machine.
The time was post World War II in Bavaria where my parents ran a gimnasium (a high school) for Hungarian girls. That particular Christmas, the school was located in the public section of a monastery. The part of the building housing the girls’ school surrounded a courtyard where the monks worked in the garden, prayed, and contemplated their navels. (The last one is untrue but was fun to insert.) The girls enjoyed sitting in the windows overlooking the courtyard, with their legs dangling over the windowsills. No one thought anything about this practice until my father received a frantic visit from the abbot around Christmastime.
It seems the monks, especially the younger ones, were distracted from their prayers by the young women hanging out the windows. The abbot also complained that the sight of all those lovely, bare legs disrupted the monks’ contemplative efforts.
I am not sure if Christmas trees in Europe today use electric lights or candlelight. But when I was four or five years old, my Hungarian parents used candlelight.
Since my mother loved Christmas and the decorated tree, she kept it around long after the dehydrated, real tree became a fire hazard. One of the lighted candles ignited the tree. I can still see all the girls lined up forming a female bucket brigade trying to put out the fire. Our once lovely tree turned into a pile of ashes, and so did the only gift I received. Sometime after the flaming tree episode, the school left the monastery, to the delight of all the monks.
The European tradition of St. Nicholaus Day on December 6th, brings back fond memories of polishing all our shoes and placing them on or near the window. In the morning, our shoes had nuts, fruits, and sometimes even candy, that is if you were good. Bad children found a piece of coal and a bundle of switches. Although my tendency to be mischievous was the norm, I did manage to be tolerably good before December 6th arrived.
One year a friend brought us oranges and ended up in the polished shoes. Never having seen an orange, I thought it was a tomato. Well, I was a little, unsophisticated tyke of 4 at the time.
With St. Nicholaus properly honored, the focus of Christmas was on the birth of Jesus. Our tree did not appear until Christmas Eve. After lunch, the children were sent to their room because the parents had to help the angels decorate the tree.
A happy and proud Christmas memory happened the day I was deemed old enough to help the angels and my parents with the tree decoration. Since even back then, I was inquisitive to the point of exhausting my parents; they should have expected my question.
“I thought I was helping the angels. Where are they?” the urchin demanded.
“The angels are invisible to our eyes, but they are present. So, do a good job decorating the tree.”
It is a good thing my parents had quick minds, or the child would never have shut her pie hole.
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Humor Books: Fractured Proverbs and Twisted Thoughts; Through the Keyhole