Christmas reminds me of...
Specifically, traditional German cookies like
My mother is German-born, from the beautiful medieval town of Celle, and my Dad's side of the family is German and Ukranian (wait until you see my Easter post!). Every Christmas morning when I was young we would get up, have some juice and see what was in our stockings, then dive into the pile of gifts under the tree. Once the gift-opening frenzy was over, we would settle down, maybe get a nibble of something to eat, and then all our attention would turn to...
THE PACKAGES FROM GERMANY. Ah, yes, the wonderfully-misshapen and travel-battered packages from Germany, securely wrapped in brown butcher paper and twine, with mysterious and foreign markings, notations and strange declarations... in fact, those two packages sitting in the middle of our living room floor amongst the Christmas detrius even SMELLED different... as well a thing should that had travelled half-way around the world to be with the Wahl Family on Christmas Day. Both were sent by our Tante (Aunt) Annelene, and both were like treasure chests waiting to be opened.
The first was filled with all manner of gifts for everyone, from silverware for my sisters, to Adidas soccer shirts (ca. 1975) for all of us, to liqueur-filled chocolate-covered cherries for my Dad, to hand-made sweaters and knit items, to German model kits of buildings for my train layout, to strange candies like Schwartze Katze (licorice cats) and Liliac pastilles (they tasted like how an old lady's purse smells), to thick bars of dark German and Swiss chocolate, some with hazelnuts... an assortment of shop items and hand-made goods from a land far away... and even the wrapping paper looked and felt different.
And then there was the second package. Ahh, the box of Lebküchen.
The second package opened to reveal a beautifully lithographed tin box that held twenty pounds or so of the above pictured cookies. With great anticipation my two sisters and I would throw back the lid, laughing with joy, our eyes dancing as the scent of these spicy, honeyed delights spread into the room around us, delicately mixing with the pungent pine odor of the Christmas tree, and the hot wax scent of the candles that were on the sideboard... and then we would extract each different package, examining them intently, then passing them around for all to see. There were dark-chocolate coated lebküchen hearts the size of your hand that were nestled in a cottage-shaped cardboard box with little doors and windows that you could open to reveal small pictures like a three-dimensional advent calendar, there were planks of brown, uncoated lebküchen as big as a paperback book that smelled like clove, there were sugar-coated discs the size of saucers topped with an inlaid half of a blanched almond, there were smaller chocolate hearts with a raspberry jelly filling, there were the thin and crisp and spicy-sweet windmill-shaped spekulatius, there were the lebküchen/jelly/marzipan layered dominosteine... and they were all simply delicious.
Those smells and those tastes and those times are what I think of when I think of Christmas...
To this day, the Wahls get together for Christmas early in December to exchange gifts and share a meal... AND WE STILL GET THE GERMAN COOKIES, thanks to my Mom and Dad.
To me, it wouldn't be Christmas without them.
Have a great holiday season everyone, and let's all be hopeful for the New Year!