Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: 24th December – Christmas Eve

How did you, your family or your ancestors spend Christmas Eve?

Christmas Eve is an interesting day because depending on which day it falls can affect what happens for much of the day. Unless Christmas was on a Sunday, Christmas Eve has usually been spent at work and as this was a peak admin workload period in universities it meant working flat out for a good deal of the day with little opportunity for an “early mark”. Our work Christmas party started on the stroke of midday except for the elves who set up before hand and of course the end-of-party clear up. Then a quick dash home and get into the serious business of family Christmas preparation. It was only in years when Christmas was on a Sunday, as in 2011, when the Christmas Eve preparations could be more leisurely.

Christmas Eve dinner chez Cassmob

I don’t know why but procrastination most often affected present wrapping so that would often happen on the family room floor while we listened to the Carols from the Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne on TV. If there was one cooking chore that was a list-minute one it would be making shortbread, and true to tradition, it’s on my list for today.

A postcard for Das Goldenes Fass, owned for 200 years by the Happ then Kunkel families, but not by the time this photo was taken, it was in other hands. However I doubt much changed over the years..

During their teenage years in high school and uni, our children worked part-time in hospitality and often seemed to have a roster on Christmas Day. Over the years we adopted the tradition of having Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve – a bit more suitable than midday on a hot summer’s day, and I think we all enjoyed the festivities leading into Christmas Day too.  It occurred to me writing this story that there’s a link between our children working Christmas Day in hospitality and the life of my ancestor George Kunkel in Bavaria as a child and young man. His family owned one of the village inns which had visitors from far and wide, so it’s quite possible that he and his family spent Christmas Day providing a wonderful meal for visitors. Some of their culinary treats included fresh pike cooked with cardamom and mustard, salmon prepared with lemon, special beer, home-made apple wine, bacon, roast pork and local wine.[i] I’m assuming that in a small village like Dorfprozelten, most of the local residents would have spent Christmas with their families and friends. Perhaps the Kunkel and Happ families had also celebrated their family Christmas on Christmas Eve? Looks like another research activity to learn more about what might have happened.

Traditionally our family’s Christmas Eve finale was attendance at midnight Mass. It always had such an atmosphere with candles sparkling through the darkness, little kids (and big ones!) yawning, and then the music throughout culminating in the rocking carols belted out by the band at the end of Mass.


[i] Veh, G. Dorfprozelten am Main Teil II, pages 193-195.

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: 22nd December 2011 – Christmas and Deceased Relatives

Did your family visit the cemetery at Christmas? How did your family honour deceased family members at Christmas?

Our family didn’t visit the cemetery at Christmas nor was any mention made of family members who died around this time. I guess when family members die at this time, the ones remaining just want to reflect on it themselves and don’t want to air their feelings.

The beautifully tended cemetery in Dorfprozelten, Bavaria.

This is in direct contrast to my Kunkel family’s Bavarian heritage where the local cemetery and the deceased family members are honoured throughout the year with seasonal decorations and candles on the graves.

A couple of branches of my ancestry also arrived in Australia within days of Christmas so really I should celebrate them as well on Christmas Day.

My grandmother died on 19 December and as we were in Brisbane from Papua New Guinea at the time it was very sad even though she was in her eighties. Dad was very close to his mother so he didn’t want to talk about it at all, and there was a general injunction not to mention the “D” word even in relation to inanimate things like trees. However that Christmas my daughter was also an infant on the crawl,and as the first grandchild whom they saw infrequently due to being in PNG, she provided a great distraction in what was otherwise a sad time for Dad.

My grandmother with me as a child.

My paternal grandfather had good reason not to talk about deceased family on this day. His father, George Michael Kunkel aged only 43, died on Christmas Day 1901.  Just six weeks earlier George and his children had lost their wife and mother, Julia. As the eldest son and child, my grandfather would have been at the forefront of all the impact of their being orphaned. On that Christmas Day the message was sent to my great-great grandparents, George and Mary Kunkel, that their son had died of a heart attack at Grantham, about 14 kilometres from the Fifteen Mile at Murphys Creek where his parents lived. What a horrible time they would have had on that Christmas Day. It was always going to be a sad day with the loss of Julia being so recent, but to lose George as well was truly a tragedy – about which I knew nothing until I started doing family history. As far as I know my father knew nothing about this event either – my grandfather kept his own counsel.The Kunkel grave in the Murphys Creek cemetery.

George Michael Kunkel was buried in the Murphys Creek cemetery on 26 December 1901 in the grave where his sister had already been interred and where his parents would later lie at rest. The restoration of this grave has been completed in 2011, as a memorial to their people who founded the family, and their descendants.

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: 15th December – Holiday Happenings and neglected birthdays

Write a tribute to those family members who birthdays/anniversaries occur around this time of the year.

A post-Christmas birthday party...not neglected at all.

Alas, alack, it is not such a joyful thing to have a birthday in the six weeks across Christmas to the end of January though ’twas never a neglected birthday. It may not be such a bad thing in the northern hemisphere where the holidays are shorter but not in Australia where this is the height of summer and the longest school holidays of the year. Unless your family takes their annual holiday during this time (ours didn’t) then you are destined to spend many birthdays with other kids who haven’t left town for the festive season. Actually that’s not really fair, at least some of my friends were in town most years so a small party was always possible but perhaps this is why I don’t really like parties?

On the plus side of the ledger, I was lucky that on most occasions my friends and family didn’t think it was a good excuse to roll up the two events into one gift: I nearly always got separate presents or I’d have been most dejected. Another plus, I never had to go to school on my birthday and could just chill out and do whatever I felt like….such as reading all my birthday and Christmas book presents.

I don’t know about other festive season “babies” but New Year is just one step too far in terms of celebrations in a short period of time. Anyone else out there with their birthday at this time of the year?

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: 14th December 2011: Fruitcake – Welcome Friend.

Advent Calendar: 14th December – Fruitcake –Welcome Friend.

Did you like fruitcake? Did your family receive fruitcakes? Have you ever re-gifted fruitcake? Have you ever devised creative uses for fruitcake (what other than eating?)

Green Peppercorn Xmas cake recipe from the Australian Women's Weekly (I think) circa 1990

My hand is already declared – fruitcake is my friend not my foe. Our family has a long tradition of homemade Christmas fruit cake. This is one task my mother often left close to Christmas but it never seemed to make any difference to how good it tasted! Mostly I do mine a few weeks out from Christmas. For decades I used my mother’s Christmas Cake recipe which she tells me came originally from Isla Kerr at the Gas Company in Brisbane, but known far & wide as her cake. Then, oh traitor, one day I saw a recipe in the Australian Women’s Weekly that I thought would be worth a try…a Green Peppercorn fruitcake made with spices and Cointreau. Sounds odd to you? Trust me, it isn’t, unless you don’t like anything slightly spicy. For years I was like a dual citizen in Christmas Cake land…I’d make one of each. Eventually I aligned my loyalty with just one and settled on the Green Peppercorn cake and that’s now my faithful choice. Most people like it, and those who don’t, well they’re out of luck at our house over the Christmas holidays and just have to settle for shortbread!

One year at work my husband won the Christmas raffle to our collective astonishment …we never win anything. It had the usual huge variety of Christmas delights including a fruit cake. That may be the only time we’ve re-gifted fruit cake….just not in the league with our homemade specialty.

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2011: 2nd December: Holiday Foods

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Holiday Foods: Did your family or ancestors serve traditional dishes for the holidays? Was there one dish that was unusual?

Formal dinner on Christmas Eve.

I think our Christmas holiday foods were fairly typical of our times. The main meal was chicken which in those pre-battery days was quite expensive perhaps with some slices of ham. Sometimes I think we had a prawn cocktail for entrée (prawns, lettuce, orange seafood dressing). We always, always had Christmas pudding for dessert and Dad when offered custard, cream or ice cream would always, always say “yes please”. The table was always set with a lace cloth, best china and cutlery and crystal. It was a quite formal meal, often with just our nuclear family. Shortbread was always made (often on Christmas Eve) from a recipe belonging to my Scottish grandmother. The Christmas cake, like everything else, was homemade with quality ingredients. It’s a very moist cake which I too made for my family. Nuts, ginger and lollies always decorated the table as well as summer fruit like cherries, apricots and peaches. Dad sometimes even had a beer!

Lebkuchen stand at the Christmas markets, Nuremberg, Bavaria.

Since we’ve had our own family, our Christmas meals have changed a bit. For a long time we had a hot meal but with pork as a centrepiece instead of chicken. I was intrigued when I learned that my great-great-grandfather was a pork butcher and how they prepared their pork in the bush. It seems like a nice link to our own tradition of roast pork which was commenced knowing nothing about family history.

Over the years, like a lot of Aussies, we’ve changed to accommodate the summer temperatures. Now we have a ham and prawns fresh from the trawlers at the Duck Pond. We might have a hot pork roast on Xmas Eve and then have it sliced cold with lunch. In the lead-up to Christmas we all raid our gourmet magazines and cookbooks trying to find a new and delectable salad or two, or three, to go with the meal which is always very casual.

Christmas treats linked to my Bavarian ancestry.

Years ago I found an unusual Christmas cake recipe from the Women’s Weekly which included green peppercorns and Cointreau – delicious if different and not to everyone’s taste. The family shortbread is still a must-have item. My mother’s Christmas pudding remains a tradition and on occasions when we’ve not been together it’s even been sent around the country to missing family. Around the time of my 40thanniversary of pudding-making I passed the baton to my middle daughter who has taken up the tradition. My youngest daughter has started a new tradition with her homemade tiramisu. We have lots of cheese and tasty homemade nibblies in the lead-up to the meal. Eldest daughter often takes on responsibility for the innovative treats given her love of cooking and food. Perhaps one of the innovations to our sweet treats is the lebkuchen (German gingerbread) which I buy at the local fancy deli. We adopted it after visiting the German Christmas market and is another nod to my Bavarian ancestry.

Mr Cassmob and the blue dog (a canine "grandchild") having a go on Christmas Day.

The meal itself is a rather fluid affair, spread across hours and interspersed with dips in the pool and when our daughter had acreage, a game of cricket for the energetic amongst us. Whatever happens we all contribute to the culinary splendour and always, always have too much food and each family goes home with a stack of snacks for the coming days.

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2011: 1st December: The Christmas Tree

Our gum tree Christmas tree when I was a child.

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Did you have a real tree or was it artificial? How big was the tree? Who decorated the tree? What types of Christmas trees did your ancestors have?

As a child we always had a live tree – in fact I’m not sure artificial trees were even available then in Australia. However our live tree was nothing like what anyone in the northern hemisphere would imagine. It wasn’t a fir of any sort, tall and thick with a pine-needle smell. Instead in the week before Christmas my father would go down to the creek bank near us and select a small gum (eucalyptus) tree which he’d cut and bring to the house. I don’t know how common this was as I honestly can’t recall other people’s trees. As soon as the gum tree was in the house there would be the pervasive smell of eucalyptus throughout.

"Onion bagging" Christmas trees in Miltenberg, Bavaria, 1992

The tree would last till a bit after Christmas before it started dropping all its leaves.

In my adult family we’ve mostly had an artificial tree as we’ve often been in places where there are limited other choices. I remember when we first visited Europe near Christmas-time being intrigued by those weird contraptions that wrap your tree in what I think of as onion-bag netting. I don’t recall ever seeing anything like that in Australia anywhere…but perhaps it happens in the southern states? Anyone want to comment?

Our first own-family tree was a casuarina which my husband said was collected from near the club at Alotau in the Milne Bay District of Papua (as it was then).

Similarly when we moved to Goroka in the Eastern Highlands we also had a casuarina.

Long ago and far away: Christmas in Goroka, PNG. Eldest daughter and her first "big girl" Christmas.

When we moved to Port Moresby we bought an artificial tree which was quite sizable…probably close to 2 metres, and lasted throughout our children’s growing-up years.

When we downsized to Darwin, we left the big tree with the family in Brisbane and downsized our tree as well. Now we have grandchildren in the family, last year we upsized again.…the cycles of life. Besides which the cat, who loves to climb in the tree and remove decorations, needed a bigger tree to mangle! The small one had taken a battering over the past few years.