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: 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: 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.

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2011: 8th December – Christmas Cookies or Biscuits

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.

My great-great-grandfather's Christmas advertisement in the Nothern Miner newspaper 22 December 1904.

Did your family or ancestors make Christmas biscuits (cookies)? How did you help? Did you have a favourite biscuit?

I think that the Christmas biscuit treat that wins hands-down is shortbread made with my Scottish grandmother’s recipe. It’s always been part of our Christmas culinary repertoire and even people who say they don’t like sweet things seem to manage quite a few <wink>. I’d guess it’s been a family tradition for something like 80 years by now.

As a child I helped by rubbing the butter into the mix, then learning to push the mix down firmly in the tray. This, too, is a tradition that has been carried on with the children in the family over the years, which means it’s time to teach it to my grandchildren this year now they’re old enough.

A couple of weeks ago while in the library reading a newspaper microfilm (on inter-library loan) I found a Christmas advertisement for the shop owned by my great-great-grandfather. He was a pastry chef and confectioner, trained in Scotland, so the Scotch shortbread he was promoting would have been the real deal.