Christmas in Germany, American Style
The Magical Christmas of 1994
On December 20, 1994, the four Rickmans — we were four then — celebrated our older son’s 28th birthday in a village near Berchtesgaden, Germany. The U.S. Air Force sent him to Germany for three years and the other three of us joined him for the holidays.
For dinner that night, we journeyed up the mountain to an inn ringed by high snow-covered ridges.
We stepped from the rental car into a crisp cold that carried the hint of coming snow. Bundled in our warm parkas, we made our way across the parking lot to the entryway — a solid, weathered, heavy wooden door. Inside, light and warmth welcomed us. “Guten Abend!” said the smiling maître de. Returning his smile and nodding, we repeated the phrase, ours tinged with a mix of American South and Mid-West. He led us to a booth.
A CLEAN WELL-LIGHTED PLACE
Seated across the room a couple in their 40s, engrossed in conversation, spoke rapid-fire German in hoarse whispers. The only other occupant, a lone older gentleman clad in lederhosen, wide suspenders, knee socks and knobbed boots, nursed the half-litre of beer on the table in front of him.
Son number two, my fellow literati, looked around, then back at me and said, “A Clean Well-Lighted Place.” I nodded in recognition.
We settled into our familiar café-sitting and drinking mode — Americans on holiday abroad, out to celebrate a birthday and soon to celebrate Christmas. What a contrast to the quiet despair of the middle-aged waiter and the old man in Papa Hemingway’s story by that familiar title. For us this warm well-lighted place offered the height of togetherness and the pleasure it brings. We reveled in the evening — good sauerbraten, good local beer, good companionship.
THREE STARS TOOK OUR BREATH AWAY
As we left the warm, clean, well-lighted place and approached the car, our footsteps crunched on the new fallen snow. In the frigid air, puffs of crystallized breath escaped our mouths. We talked softly, and then, almost as one, we looked up and the sight took our collective breaths away.
Atop one of the high ridges encircling the town shone the bright white five-pointed Star of Bethlehem. A six-pointed Star of David topped the next ridge. The Star and Crescent symbol of Islam shown from the top of a third ridge. A circle of peace in the heart of Germany on a quiet winter night — a symbol of hope.
CHRISTMAS EVE IN GAUANGELLOCH
Four nights later, we were back in our son’s small apartment outside Gauangelloch near Heidelberg. He and I made our way down the hill to the German Protestant Church for the 11 p.m. Christmas Eve Candlelight Service — a familiar ritual in our Methodist family.
The small church was packed, everyone bundled in warm coats, jackets and mufflers. We found standing room at the back. Good thing the other two stayed back in the apartment drinking brandy.
STILLE NACHT IN PERFECT HARMONY
We understood only three words spoken or sung that night — Mary, Joseph and Bethlehem — it was enough. The two of us — church choir stalwarts — sang Silent Night, quietly, in English under our breath. He took the baritone harmony. I, the alto. We gloried in the rich sound of the German voices raised in song around us.
On the way back up the hill at midnight, church bells peeled and voices called out greetings that echoed in the frosty darkness. Again, crystallized puffs of our own breath led the way as we walked up the hill toward the apartment.
That night we learned that our younger son had met a special girl. Back in Atlanta, she awaited his return from Christmas with his family in Germany. That was our last Christmas as four because she joined our family gathering the following Christmas. Several years later, his brother added his lady to the mix.
WE ARE BLESSED!
Blessed with four grandchildren, we grew to ten, and remained so through Christmas of 2018. Now grampa is gone and we are nine. Still, we are blessed.
Now, as I remember these many years later the three lighted symbols atop those ridges in Germany, I want to wish you all a blessed holiday — according to your personal beliefs — and a healthy and prosperous New Year.
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Thanks for sharing this special Christmas with your readers. Hope you are well. Wishing you the best in 2022.