Of Pigs and Potatoes

by neilthejeweler on December 16, 2009

I grew up believing there was something uniquely German about Christmas Eve.

That was the  night we put up our tree and  would anxiously wait til midnight to open the package sent from Oma and Tante Helga.

After the cord was ceremoniously cut,  the box would be opened reverently. Wrapped inside layers of the thinnest crinkly Christmas tissue would be more tissue wrapped around small bundles. They made the sound of tinder catching fire as they were unwrapped.

There were gifts for all and each was always perfect. A Hohner harmonica for my brother . My first Bob Dylan album. There he was, with his swirling hair and enigmatic smirk,  holding a  giant chrome Zippo lighter. A ponderous thing indeed.

Miene Tante was always good at choosing the right gift. She was young enough but old enough. Each of us would show off our present as if it were some crowning achievement. To be remembered from the old country, back home.

One year, my mother told us the stories of her childhood. Of gleaming candles on magical trees. Sipping her father’s beer, when her mother wasn’t looking. Combing her baby sister’s fine blonde hair in a tiny cozy room, upstairs, on the featherbed, waiting to be called down for the Christmas Eve unveiling of their family’s tree.

She told us of the coffee roaster down the street, how the aroma would waft all the way to their house on cold mornings, and fill their senses with….

But that was 1942.  Hamburg. A few months later they were bombed out. The Feuersturm they called it. The firestorm. She recounted how the intense blazing wind would whirl down the street and catch every flammable surface, even the road itself. She recalled how human bodies, perhaps her classmates, would just shrivel into tiny charred lumps. She told us how the burnt smell of corpses lingered for days. She was twelve.  She recounted the hardships her family faced after that. Her father had lost his small trucking business and there were no more Christmas Eves for a long long while.


But the tissued bundle my brothers and I most sought out contained the Lubecke marzipan. These were not just candies. These were Sculpture. Art. A supreme delight to see. And to hold. Little marzipan pigs. Little marzipan potatoes. We pondered aloud and excitedly whether to taste them now, or keep them for trading after New Year’s.


I heard my mother sobbing gently much later that night. Retreating to sleep. Retreating to a dream.

Its only now I understand.


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neilthejeweler December 18, 2009 at 1:48 pm

Thank you. Unfortunately I am a terrible photographer and an even worse website builder. I’ll try to post more pics in the blog sometime.

Barbara Jacquin December 18, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Thanks for a touching reminder of what Christmas should really mean. A time to reflect–and remember. I enjoy reading all your comments and tips. Keep up the good work. Do you have a web site so I can look at your good work?
Happy holidays
Barbara in the south of France

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