Christmas for many is a time of excitement, expectation and merriment, a gathering of families to share and enjoy good food and the exchanging of gifts along with the sanctity and ritual of traditions, be they religious or familial. It is also a time of reflection, remembering those who are no longer with us, and those that cannot be with us for whatever reason.
It is at this time of year when I always miss my father most. He loved everything about Christmas, the pains he took in making our toys when we were little – the wooden forts and dolls houses and prams; all the secrecy, the pleasure he obviously took in finding the right things for us all, and the fun I know he had in putting up all the decorations and dressing the tree on Christmas Eve after us four children had gone to bed. He also took charge of bringing home and cooking the turkey.
One pleasure he took was in taking us all to see the Christmas lights along the Great West Road at Brentford, where we lived. Near to the Gillette factory was Firestone Tyres factory, which had a long, lawned frontage that to us children seemed to go for miles. Every year the factory put up a fantastic display of lights: trees, sleighs and all sorts. It was a magical sight and I continued this evening excursion with my own daughter, much to her delight.
Christmas is for children, the magic for me seeing the pleasure in their smiling faces as they see displays, the decorated tree, and that wonderful moment of pure joy when they rip open their presents.
Each year in late November, Oma, my German grandmother, would send over a parcel of Christmas goodies. These always included Advent calendars, our presents, and lots of foodstuffs that were not available at that time (back in 1950s and 60s) in England: things such as Stollen, Lebkuchen and Lebkuchenherzen (iced gingerbread hearts). She always sent candy canes – something normally associated with the USA. The origin of striped candy canes comes from Germany when these treats made to represent a shepherd’s crook were given out to children when leaving church at Christmas time.
There is one special tradition I now continue although at the time we came across this, it had nothing to do with Christmas but is now the time of year I preserve the memory of my father. One year, my husband treated my parents, my daughter and me to a holiday cruise down the Rhine in Germany. It was Easter time, and an incredibly hot one at that. One of the towns along the river we visited was Rudesheim, where they make Asbach Uralt– a type of brandy, and one of my favourite tipples (when I can get hold of it!). It was here we were introduced to Rudesheimer coffee – a type of “Irish” coffee, with a difference. Dad couldn’t get enough of it, insisting on this whenever we had coffee during that trip. Years later, when he and my mother spent many Christmases with us, I would make Dad his Rudesheimer coffee in memory of that lovely trip together. And each year at Christmas I still make myself one. Okay, maybe two or three over the festive break. I have included the recipe here. Unlike the spirited after-meal coffees we are used to in the UK, this one is served in a large mug, or, as I have, a special cup and saucer bought in Germany for the purpose of. I hope you give it a try.
Meanwhile in a time of reflection and sadness following several sad happenings recently, here is my tribute to the dreadful shootings in America last week:
Wishing everyone an enjoyable, peaceful and safe Christmas.