My dad loved holidays and everything oversized. He always overestimated the height of our ceiling when purchasing a tree, which necessitated lopping off the top and bottom, leading to a tree the shape of an enormous long- needled bush barely contained in the picture window nook. I remember prickly evergreen scented sessions of practicing as the tree impinged on the piano bench. My dad was thrilled when he and my mom bought a house with a cathedral ceiling so he could have a tree that truly towered over the room. We shrouded the tree in large multi-colored lights, sparkly strips of tinsel, and an eclectic collection of ornaments ranging from family heirlooms to plastic treasures found in cereal boxes. Dad regaled us with stories of the Christmas trees from his childhood with real candles, magically unveiled in the German tradition on Christmas Eve, with dolls arranged beneath in a wintery scene. At the stroke of midnight, all the dolls came to life and commenced sledding and skating.
With my dad, there was not only magic but also an element of danger and excitement at Christmas time with skate sailing on the lake, tobogganing at breakneck speed on steep golf course fairways, and consuming raw eggs in homemade eggnog. We even had a tradition of kissing the turkey goodbye before it went in the oven!
I share my dad's tendency towards excess during the holidays, although not the fondness for tinsel and raw turkey kissing. I pack our schedule with holiday events, write a couple of hundred cards, buy our kids too many gifts, fill our home with guests and always add one more side dish necessitating an additional umpteenth trip to the grocery store. My excesses confound my husband. Only about half the citizens of his native land celebrate Christmas, where it is a two day religious holiday with simpler traditions, not an entire season of festivities.
My dad passed away about a year and a half ago, so this will be our second Christmas dinner not ending in cake, candles and singing happy birthday to him. Since our older kids are studying and working overseas, we are going to meet them in Europe. My dad's great grandfather was a brewer who immigrated to Milwaukee from Germany 150 years ago. My family is going to experience Christmas in Germany in the snow and cold, visiting the Christmas markets and enjoying food, crafts and other traditions that my dad cherished from his childhood. We hope it will help us remember all the joy he brought to every Christmas.