Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: Oh Tannenbaum

Advent calendar 2Today is the first in the 2013 series of Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. I participated in the series in 2011 so thought I might have another go-around this year though some posts may simply be link-backs to earlier topics.

Gum Tree Christmas and bride doll.

Gum Tree Christmas and bride doll.

In our family the Christmas tree has changed over my lifetime. As a child it was always a branch of a small gum (eucalyptus) tree from down near the neighbourhood creek, or perhaps even a small tree. Because it was live we only put the tree up in the days before Christmas. It infused the house with the distinctive fragrance of eucalyptus oil. It’s strange how memory works because I have no recollection of the process though there was definitely ceremony attached and I was always involved in the decorating.

Our fake pine tree, DD1 and 2, Port Moresby 1977

Our fake pine tree, DD1 and 2, Port Moresby 1977

As a young married couple we followed the tradition of branches of live trees, like the casuarina. It was decorated with indestructible baubles in bright 1970s colours and cheap trade-store ornaments, many of which lasted decades. Later on we moved to a plastic, pseudo-pine tree which did look the part. No doubt we bought it at one of the Chinese trade stores in Port Moresby though I’m not sure which.

Another generation discovers the Xmas tree -and an original bauble from 1970.

Another generation discovers the Xmas tree -and an original bauble from 1970.

That tree followed our family back to Australia and through our children’s growing up. It remained in Brisbane when we moved to the Territory and eventually was retired from service by daughter #2 a few years ago as even a fake tree loses its needles after decades.

Meanwhile we progressed through another two trees thanks to the services of a small furry creature who thought having an indoor climbing adventure, complete with tempting trinkets, was just the ticket! We downsized to a small one for just the empty nesters, then upsized again as the grandchildren came along.

For as long as I can recall we’ve put our tree up around our youngest daughter’s birthday in early December, and taken it down for mine, in early January. It is definitely a family tradition so I smiled quietly to myself when I heard her telling our grandsons yesterday that they would put their tree up next weekend. Of such things are memories and traditions made.

Xmas delight

Xmas delight -first sighting of the tree. c1973

It’s also traditional that Christmas carols must be played during the decorating of the tree, and each person in the house contributes to hanging the decorations, even if someone else occasionally relocates a particular bauble. The tree inevitably had the addition of children’s craft decorations from preschool and school, some of which have survived over time and some which fell apart.

Wherever we travel, especially in the prelude to Christmas, we purchase Christmas decorations, and every time we declare “no more”, “that’s enough”, so I won’t tell you that on our recent trips to Kenya and Brisbane, our bauble stocks increased. Perhaps we should start an A to Z of Christmas baubles and where they were bought!

The cat contributes by downsizing our somewhat excessive decorations with a niftily turned paw and claw. It’s also amazing how much neater the house looks as soon as the busyness of trees and decorations cease in January. But nothing says Christmas is on its way like a beautifully decorated tree, and nothing makes kids’ eyes sparkle like all that bling.

This is my link-back to my original Christmas Tree post.

The Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories (ACCM) allows you to share your family’s holiday history twenty-four different ways during December! Learn more at http://adventcalendar.geneabloggers.com.

52 weeks of Personal Genealogy & History: Week 50: Gift giving, Secret Santa and Kiva

The topic for Week 50 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Holiday gifts. Describe any memorable Christmas gifts you received as a child. As I was travelling I missed posting on the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories on 10th December when the topic was Christmas Gifts: What were your favourite gifts, both to receive and to give? Are there specific gift-giving traditions among your family or ancestors? As these topics dovetail neatly I’m going to combine them.

My bride doll Mary on display.

There are two Christmas gifts that stand out from my childhood – the beautiful bride doll I received when I was about seven I think. Then there was the year that I nagged my parents fairly remorselessly for a particular book published by the Readers Digest. It was all about animals and the natural world. Of course I received it and was very thrilled.

A good Christmas is always one with a book in the gift collection. I think most years I got a book of some sort from friends or family, some of which I have to this day despite the many moves of house and home. Within our own family, gifts almost always include good books: some years are more book-focused than others. One year my husband got a whole repertoire of books relevant to his family history: Argyll, Easdale, Lismore. Isn’t it a shame that I also have Argyll ancestry, but to be fair none from the Isles ;-) I’ve put in a request this year for How to write history that people want to read: a friend has lent it to me and it’s full of great tips and strategies. I do hope Santa’s got good links with the online bookstores.

The other gift-of-choice over the years has been music: LPs then CDs. Many is the year that we have almost bought the same book or CD for each other, but I don’t think we’ve ever actually doubled up…just come close.

One year our family looked at the pile of gifts under the tree and were somewhat dismayed by our indulgence, even though we’ve never been really extravagant with gifts. We decided there and then to simplify our Christmas in terms of expense, time and commercialism. Each family household has a Secret Santa of another household and we limit the price. We can nominate a handful of “things” we’d like, then it’s up to the gift-giving household to do the shopping and selection. We also do a silly secret Santa of low value for each individual. This year I messed up the name draw by putting our street suburb as well as our post office suburb…a neat strategy to get more presents? Well no, as it happens this year our nominated Secret Santa is to be put towards Genealogists for Families Kiva donations, as anyone on the Kiva lists needs a Christmas treat more than we do, and we get to feel good about what we’ve done. However having discovered the name-draw mix-up, the missing household has been sorted out – lucky they were leaving town before Xmas and it came to light before the shops shut! Lucky too that they didn’t want to take the gift away with them!

The littlies of course are exempt from this tradition and continue to get their own presents but not over-the-top. We also encourage them to be involved in making and giving the presents so they understand it’s about sharing and not all about them.

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: 23rd December 2011 – Christmas Sweetheart Memories

Do you have a special memory of a first Christmas present from a sweetheart? How did you spend your first Christmas together? Any Christmas engagements or weddings among your ancestors?

The Christmas season has been pretty unpopular as a marriage time for those on my family trees: probably because it’s just too hot here, but only one in the European branches too.

Apparently we’re both far too unromantic since neither of us has a memory of what my first Christmas present was from my husband (my first sweetheart). Nor does he remember what I gave him. I think his present to me may have been the carved ornament of a Chinese fisherman but I’m not sure. Not too much should be read into this gift-amnesia, after all I remember many of the other gifts he gave me for no reason at all when we were dating, not to mention the bunches of violets and other flowers.

The wharf at Alotau in Milne Bay a few years after we lived there. This is just a small snippet of the Bay.

Our first Christmas together was the one after we married…all the preceding years he’d been far away in Papua New Guinea with his family with no means of communication other than very slow snail mail and radio telephone. We lived in a very small town in Milne Bay District and had limited shopping opportunities –just four trade stores in the town and a somewhat larger store on Samarai where “himself” used to work when they lived on the island. We bought our first family Christmas decorations and our first LPs of Christmas music from one of these trade stores. The decorations were very 1970s as they were in flourescent colours. We still have one or two that successive cats and children haven’t mangled and proving that what was “once old is new again”, a few years ago the colours even came back into fashion.

Our first Christmas Day nearly ended up being a repast of very simple standards – the planes hadn’t been able to land for some days due to the weather. Milne Bay is shaped like  a horseshoe with mountains surrounding it meaning that when it rained HEAVILY during the Wet Season the bay was filled with dense clouds and the mountains shrouded. It was a foolhardy pilot who took the flying conditions lightly..it was an unforgiving place to fly.

Anyway on that Christmas Day we sat at a friend’s place, with food to nibble on but with no main course as all our meat had to be flown in from Port Moresby. We listened optimistically as once again we heard the buzz of the small aircraft trying to find its way through the murk. Imagine our excitement when we could hear it below the clouds and heading for the runway at Gurney. Everyone jumped in a vehicle of some sort and took off for the airstrip some 20kms of rough road and a couple of un-bridged creeks away. We happily recovered our Christmas food orders and were joyful that our Christmas meal would no longer be such a simple repast. Ironically neither of us remembers what it was that we ordered – only that it arrived in the nick of time, thanks to the efforts of a gutsy pilot who was working on Christmas Day. Hopefully when he got home there was a nice meal waiting for him too.

We didn’t own a camera at this stage of our married life when funds were tight, so we have no visual record of our first Christmas together.

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 – 21st December 2011 –Christmas Music

What songs did your family listen to during Christmas? Did you ever go carolling? Did you have a favourite song?

One of our first Christmas albums as a couple.

The Christmas carols I remember most from my childhood were Adeste Fidelis and Silent Night. Then when I got a small record player in my high school years we bought a new Christmas LP and on it was Oh Tannenbaum, the German carol which gave me a chance to practice the German I was learning at school.

On our first Christmas together my husband and I bought an LP by Nana Mouskouri and on that was the song, the Little Drummer Boy. I’d never heard it before and it’s become one of my favourites ever since along with Mary’s Boy Child as sung by Boney M (Mr Cassmob used to love it by Harry Belafonte but we didn’t have the music though his rendition is superb). In our house at Christmas time rocking Xmas songs by Neil Diamond are interspersed with Christmas Carols by the Oxford Boys Choir and Joy to the World or Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

As a child in Brisbane the only carols I remember singing were in church over Christmas and I have no recollection of anyone going carolling. I was a bit surprised to discover when reading some old diaries recently that the Uniting Church people used to go carolling in our neighbourhood of Gerehu in Port Moresby…I had completely forgotten this. When we returned to Australia from Papua New Guinea our family used to go to carols by candlelight every year including when our youngest was just a tiny baby. We did this every year for about 20 years, without fail, until the television channel which hosted it turned it into a commercial farce. After that we settled for watching Australia’s iconic carols from Melbourne on Christmas Eve, often while wrapping presents.

At the church our own family used to go to in Brisbane, the band would play sedately throughout midnight Mass then as the Mass ended they would launch into full scale, full noise versions of carols and Christmas songs. Very exuberant and joyful and full of the Christmas spirit –put a smile on everyone’s face!

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: 21st December 2011 – Religious Services

Did your family attend religious services during the Christmas season? What were the customs and traditions involved?

A Christmas crib in Bavaria.

My mother and I were always church goers and my father would very occasionally join us for Midnight Mass even though he wasn’t a Catholic. Christmas, like Easter, had many phases to the preparation for Christmas including the priest wearing purple vestments throughout Advent then wearing white on Christmas Day. In more recent times the church has had advent wreaths with various coloured candles for each week of Advent and while I don’t really recall this from my childhood, I do distinctly remember the Easter candle being re-lit at Christmas. The crib would be set up in the church and the baby Jesus added, I think, on Christmas Eve. We did the same thing at home: the crib was set up on a large corner display table with an angel hovering over it and suspended by the glass top of the table. Again, the baby would not be added until Christmas Day.

It was traditional to go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve when I was a child and this was a tradition we continued with our own children for many decades. It was part of what made Christmas special, including the sleepiness, darkness, and then the candles. When we came home we’d have shortbread and a hot drink. Midnight Mass also had a good off-spin which is that the kids were then tired enough to sleep in a little on Christmas morning and not wake us up at 4am!

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: 19th December 2011 – Christmas Shopping

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.

How did your family handle Christmas Shopping? Did anyone finish early or did anyone start on Christmas Eve?

Christmas cooking might have been left to the last minute, but Christmas shopping, almost never.

I say almost never because one year when our daughters were all still in their teens, I actually wrapped the presents early –something that virtually never happens. Much to my horror I appeared to have nothing for our youngest daughter. As next morning was Christmas Eve, I did an assault on one the biggest shopping centres (malls) in town, the minute the place opened. Believe me with that shopping centre, near where I worked, you had to be there extremely early or you’d be circling like a shark looking for a carpark for hours. Mission accomplished her gifts were wrapped and Christmas went without a hitch.

Imagine my astonishment some months later when, tidying the cupboards, I found the sleeping bag I’d bought for her well in advance of Christmas! If I recollect correctly she got her second Christmas present there and then before it got lost in the cupboards again!

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: 18th December 2011 – Christmas Stockings

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 one? Where did you hang it? What did you get in it? Do you have any Christmas stockings used by your ancestors?

What a surprise to discover in my baby book today that I did indeed have a Christmas stocking when I was a baby. In the year I was not-quite-one, my stocking apparently contained a ball. I do remember that when I was a bit older I would always get one of those stockings that had a cardboard backing and a see-through netting front and inside it would have odds and ends like a comic, a party-trumpet thingy and a small packet of teeth-breaking tiny lollies. They were always fun.

Kermit and tinsel on the steps keep the cat amused over Xmas.

Somewhere along the line the main stocking tradition obviously fell by the wayside as I have no recollection of getting one filled with little trinkets or gifts. I’d guess I was far happier getting the books on my wish list rather than odds and ends. This also explains why we’ve never been very good with stockings for our own children, though we did adopt my husband’s family tradition of leaving a small gift, usually a book, wrapped up at the end of the bed, with the injunction to turn over once, go back to sleep, then read the book. None of that 5am waking-up malarkey in our house :-)

One year however I found a pattern of a Kermit the Frog stocking that I made up for our youngest daughter. It’s never really done proper duty as a gift-holder and is more likely to decorate the living room. Perhaps this is the year to change that and find something to put in it for the grandchildren (other than lollies which those tropical ants like far too much).

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: 16th December – Christmas at School

What did you or your ancestors do to celebrate Christmas at school? Were you ever in a Christmas pageant?

Daughter #2 is Mary in the Christmas play.

While I can remember (some of) my children’s Christmas pageants, I don’t have any recollection of my own. In Australia school finishes a couple of weeks before Christmas so it’s a frenzy of school concerts, carols, raffles, farewells to classmates and teachers and getting the Xmas preparations done. I can only assume that my primary school was no different and that we did carols – but a blank is all I come up with. In the four years of high school, two were major examination years so you finished school in advance of the usual pre-Christmas rush. One of the traditions at my girls’ high school was writing little notes to each other on holy pictures and exchanging them. I still have some including one from a second cousin I knew nothing about until we found ourselves in the same high school class: her grandmother and my grandfather were siblings. Our daughters went through much the same process of pageants, plays, concerts and graduation dinners, stirred and mixed with a lot of emotion and nostalgia.

The cycle has started again with our grandchildren’s end-of-year Christmas events and with one teacher in the family we also see it now from the other side of the fence.

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: 13th December – Holiday Travel

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 or your ancestors travel anywhere for Christmas? How did you travel and who travelled with you? Do you remember any special trips?

My family never went away at Christmas time as it was simply too expensive being peak-holiday season, and I guess, as with all work situations, the bosses were pleased to have someone who was happy to stay on duty during this period. So the furthest we went for Christmas was across Brisbane to my maternal grandfather’s house. As we didn’t have a car it could be quite a journey by public transport and I would amuse myself learning to spell Woolloongabba, the suburb where we changed between the trolley bus and then tram to Buranda. My grandfather had been widowed by then so the different families would also take food for a Christmas meal. I wasn’t best pleased when my mechanically-minded cousin would investigate how my new toys worked, or when one of my rougher cousins simply went into destructo mode.

Enjoying New York's Christmas preparations 1992.

In 1992 my husband and I made a special trip to Europe via the US in the six weeks before Christmas. We loved all the wonderful sights we saw, especially the Bavarian Christmas markets, the snow and the trees being wrapped in onion bags. Not to mention drinking gluhwein while eating bratwurst on crunchy rolls! On the return sector we were in New York in the week leading up to Christmas so we saw, and heard, the Santas with their bells, skaters at Rockefeller plaza, angel decorations and wonderful lights. We vowed we’d go back one Christmas but so far haven’t made it though two of our daughters celebrated Christmas Day there a few years back. A definite item for the travel Bucket List!

Advent calendar of Christmas Memories: 11 December 2011: Christmas traditions from Bavaria in Queensland

The old kitchen on the Kunkel farm c2001. Photo © Pauleen Cass

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 your immigrant ancestors have holiday traditions from their native country which they retained or perhaps abandoned?

I’ve already spoken about my Melvin and McCorkindale ancestors and the trail of shortbread crumbs that followed them from Scotland to Australia.

A dazzle of decorations in the Christmas markets Nuremberg, Bavaria 1992.

The ancestor I feel for the most, in terms of traditions lost, is George Kunkel from Dorfprozelten. Bavaria has a centuries-old tradition of the most wonderful Christmas markets and it’s most likely he’d have visited one in the neighbouring towns. The lights, smell of chestnuts and sausages, and all the special crafts would surely have been such an enormous contrast to his life in the bush at Murphys Creek. I wonder if he was nostalgic at Christmas time for the old Bavarian traditions? The tragedy that would befall this family one Christmas Day would only have added to his sadness.

However, thanks to the memories relayed to me by one of George and Mary Kunkel’s grandchildren, Anne Kunkel, in 1988, our family knows a little more about how Christmas was celebrated by them out in the rural area of the Fifteen Mile in Queensland. This is an extract from my book Grassroots Queenslanders: the Kunkel Family. Anne talked first about how her grandfather would prepare the pig for slaughter and make sausages and black and white pudding after cleaning the skins in the nearby creek. He had a big wooden packing case about the size of the table top, square, and salted the pig down in that. Every morning he turned the sides over, resalted it then we’d eat it for Christmas. There was the brawn to make and the lard to render. The brawn was lovely. Anne said Gran (Mary O’Brien) was a good cook and she thought George could cook too….she didn’t know he had worked as a pork butcher, a tradition which ran in his family along with running an inn in his home village. I talked on 2ndDecember about our own family tradition of eating roast pork, well before we knew of this ancestral connection.

Mr Cassmob following my ancestor's tradition of drinking gluhwein at Christmas in the town of Miltenberg near Dorfprozelten, Bavaria.

In Anne’s early years the family would return to Murphy’s Creek for Christmas, six families at least, and it was a happy time. “Of course the tradition with the hot meals and everything still existed, plum pudding and all that. We had our poultry and our own ham and we’d get whatever meat we wanted and whatever vegetables we wanted, we grew. There was always fruit that had to be stewed and that sort of thing. And you could have milk puddings and always had plum pudding and white sauce.

The Kunkels grew peaches and apricots in their orchard down near the creek. The grandfather also grew Isabella grapes from which he also made his own wine. They were champagne coloured grapes, a sort of big pink grape, and a lot of it would have come from the old country, the fruit trees and everything. There were grapes growing all around the orchard – big trellises of them. It was nothing for us to give away a kerosene tin of grapes[i]. Christmas (summer) is grape, melon and stone fruit season in Australia –some compensation for not having gluhwein, chestnuts, fires and sparking lights.

The Kunkels also used to have a sugar melon, they were sweeter than a watermelon. You’d wet a sugar bag and put it over the melon and put it in a cool place where it would get the breeze on it. With freshly churned butter, and no doubt fresh bread from the open fire in the kitchen, and if true to Mary’s heritage, lots of potatoes, it would have made quite a Christmas feast.


[i] Anne’s description doesn’t quite fit with the online information, however I’ve heard of a few of the Bavarian immigrants growing this grape.