Barbara Bohn, Electronic mail message to Michael M. Miller from Toronto, Ontario
Mom and Dad escaped from a Russia terrorized by Stalin and because of their courage, we children grew up free in Canada. Our parents left behind family and friends, but not their traditions – Christmas being the most special. Or so it seemed.
So my memories of Christmases past begin not in December but in November when Mom started her baking spree. She would sing Christmas hymns as she beat, stirred, rolled and patted the various doughs for a huge variety of cookies. As the sun would set, we could see the wonderful orange, red, gold and purple sunsets through the west facing window and Mom would say – “Look children, the Christ Child is baking”. She would say this in German of course, but I have no idea how to write that in the exact words she spoke. When I grew up and had my own children I would tell them exactly the same thing as I baked Christmas cookies and sang the old hymns.
Northeastern Saskatchewan was a winter wonderland (probably romanticized in retrospect because I also remember frozen fingers, noses and toes). There was always lots of snow and our farmyard was surrounded by a forest of huge spruce trees. Needless to say we never had a Christmas without a “real” Christmas tree. The smell of an evergreen tree being brought inside from the cold of winter has no equal. It has never been copied by a fake “evergreen” or “pine” spray. The smell of snow and cold seemed to linger on the tree boughs even after it was in the house.
The excitement leading up to Christmas was not dampened by the stringent Advent laws imposed by our mother. Christmas Eve was celebrated with nuts, candy, apples, mandarin oranges, fruitcake and the long awaited Christmas cookies. A very important part of Christmas Eve was decorating the Christmas tree and singing the familiar carols lead by Mom and Dad. Our tree was decorated with great care with real candles in their little tin holders which clamped onto the tree bough. The older children would be responsible for this important decorating task as well as stringing the tinsel garlands and hanging the precious glass balls. I always thought it was the most beautiful tree in the world.
When I was very small, I remember Dad taking the youngest children up into the attic and telling us that this was the night the “Krist Kindel” would come and bring us presents. We would hear sleigh bells outside and then the front door would crash open and a huge box full of wrapped presents would come flying into the front porch along with lots of snow and cold. It was always so exciting and always, there was the hope that the very special thing we wanted most would be in that box of gifts.
The farm next to ours belonged to another German family and we would take turns celebrating Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at each other’s homes. I loved the Christmas Eve when Dad would hitch the horses to the open sleigh and we would all be bundled in warm coats, boots, hats, mitts and scarves – only our eyes were allowed to peep out. Dad would have put the bells on the horses’ harnesses and away we would go in the snapping cold under a black velvet sky filled with thousands of stars that seemed so close you could reach out and touch them. The spruce trees would be dressed in their winter finery of snow-covered branches which sparkled in the starlight. If it happened to be a full moon – it was a magical scene – brilliant white snowdrifts sparkling against a backdrop of dark spruce trees and shadows creating a mysterious and beautiful landscape.
There has never been a Christmas since that time that I haven’t reminisced and would have like to step back in time, just for a moment, to experience those days again.