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It is dark apart from a small side light, casting weird shadows whenever we move. I am starving after a whole day’s fasting, but mostly excited, cheeks burning I whisper and giggle with my brother and we tell each other to be quiet…shush!
Our joy and anticipation is palpable as we are trying to keep still. We are waiting for the all important sound of the bell, announcing the start of festivities. This is the 24th December, Christmas Eve, Austria. The year is 1966
The signs have been promising all day. Windows were cleaned and kept open for Christ-Kind, a tiny magical winged and haloed version of Baby Jesus, to deliver our presents. The glass of the living room door has been covered with psychedelic patterned Christmas paper, as was the fashion in those days. No peeping allowed! I am dressed in my traditional red velvet dress with a white lace collar, my brother in a royal blue suit, our feet clad in black lacquered shoes. He keeps trying to pull them off, but I am keeping an eye on him, he has to do what big sister says.
Bless you little brother, wherever you may be now!
As every year, the build up to this moment is massive. From the beginning of Advent, we spend 24 days lighting candles, making Christmas decorations for the huge fir tree, telling stories, singing carols and baking biscuits. Today has been spent with not only fasting but also preparations of simple but wonderful food, poached fish, warm potato salad, home made cakes.
No snow this year, but we don’t mind. We are living in an industrial town right in the middle of the chemical works; which are billowing out acrid yellow, blue and magenta smoke; and the steel works with its alien looking creatures of sky high ovens spewing flames, producing relentless black soot which would eventually turn our snow into a black crusty mess.
However, we are safe inside. The heady smell of cookies, pine tree and candles fills the air, and finally with the tinkling of the bell, the magical door opens, my dad starts singing Silent Night and we stand in awe of the beautifully decorated Christmas tree, sparklers finally being lit add some extra magic.
To this day the sound and smell of Christmas remembered leaves me breathless.
Presents are unwrapped, paper torn off in a frenzy, little brother already got the new toy car vroom vrooming all over the settee, however I am searching for my books, please let them be there! Everything else pales into insignificance, then my heart leaps! They are all there, Moomin, Carlton and Hedgehog!
Relatives arrive, we are sixteen around the table this year, but despite being hungry my feet are knocking impatiently against my chair’s legs, until finally I am able to sneak away quietly, unnoticed, to bed, under cover, torch on, to read my books.
Thank you Christmas!