historical war memoir
A Personal Journey Through Germany's World Wars and Postwar Years
by Dorothea von Schwanenflügel Lawson

"I was a young girl of five living in Berlin when the war started, and shared many of the experiences that Frau Lawson describes in "Laughter Wasn't Rationed". I found her book fascinating, reflecting many of my own memories of this most difficult time."
            ~ I. Gross, Eastsound, Washington


vintage photo of german familyThen finally the part of the evening arrived which we had impatiently awaited all day. While church bells were ringing outside as we all helped clean up in the kitchen, mysterious things were going on inside around the Christmas tree, behind closed doors in the living room. We clearly heard talking and rumbling. Could it be that the Christ Child had arrived? (It was imagined as a big angel and numerous Christmas carols gave evidence of its glorification.) Then we heard Papa say, "Good-bye dear Christ Child, until next year!" That was the moment when he opened the big folding door between the living and dining rooms, and we saw the sparkling Christmas tree for the first time. The warm glow of the lighted candles filled the darkened room.

The tree was a live one, of course, and its fresh scent filled the air. Papa told us that Martin Luther had cut down and decorated the first Christmas tree in 1535 to dramatize for his children the inspiring glory of Christmas. The green color symbolized eternal hope. Our tree stretched from floor to ceiling and was covered with silver tinsel, sweets, and a big gold star at the top. In keeping with German tradition, the flickering wax candles were real. To be on the safe side, Papa always kept a bucket of water and a big wet cloth behind the door, just in case the tree caught on fire. The happy holiday dream finally became true.

If we thought we could storm in now to see what the Christ Child had left for us, we were wrong. Papa would take out his violin and we all sat down and had to sing Christmas songs first, which of course included Silent Night. Next followed a recitation of poems we children had to learn by heart for that occasion. All of this seemed to take an awfully long time, but that was the ritual. Finally we were allowed to race to our presents, which were never wrapped. Mutti always arranged them nicely on a table which Günter and I shared.

children of warWe thought our modest gifts were fabulous and never knew where to look first, or what to touch next. For instance, my old doll got a lovely new outfit, which had been sewed and knitted by Mutti. I believed the Christ Child had made it. Günter would find another car for his train. There might also be a red rubber ball, picture books, and of course a new pair of warm house shoes which we put on right away. Times were tough in the early 1920s. I vividly remember once getting a warm muff made out of rabbit fur, with a matching collar for my coat. I certainly was proud of that outfit for our cold winter days and wore it for years.

And then it was time to compare our traditional Christmas plates. These were made of sturdy cardboard, shaped like stars in a beautiful, scalloped design, with lovely Christmas scenes and decorations in vivid colors. We would keep them year after year, mine with angles and stars, and Günter's with fir trees and animals. We would have been very disappointed if Mutti had bought new ones. These were our old, well-known friends, always filled with fruit, nuts, chocolates and marzipan, a soft candy made out of almond paste. The Christ child must have been for equality because both of us always had exactly the same items on our plates. It never failed.

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