FAMILY Blog: Keeping What Counts

Growing up, my mother seemed to have boundless holiday energy. To be perfectly honest, she’s a tough act to follow!

On Thanksgiving, she would start writing her Christmas newsletter to send to friends and family. She kept up the tradition as my brothers and I grew and started families of our own. She would ask for recent pictures depicting our family outings and events, and skillfully craft the year’s story into a one-page summary. Even though it was about my own family, I always looked forward to receiving my copy and reading the year in review.

She was as talented a baker as she was a writer, so the holidays were a delicious time of year. My mother was from Germany, so for nearly the entire month of December the aroma of lebkuchen or stollen filled the house. I can still smell it!

She also enjoyed decorating the house for the holidays. We lived in New Hampshire, and my parents would go into the woods on their property and cut down a tree. My mother would decorate the tree with ornaments she had collected for years from around the world.

She also made her own wreaths from branches from the local tree-trimming hut. She would keep the wire frames from year to year and fashion the branches around them, then hang the wreaths outside the house. When I saw the wreaths on the windows, I knew it would soon be Christmas.

As children, this seemed like a magical time of year. Keeping with German tradition, we celebrated St. Nicholas Day. My two brothers and I would put our slippers outside of our bedroom doors, and St. Nicholas would leave us candy and coins.

We always celebrated together as a family on Christmas Eve. My parents would put us in bed for a nap. Then, they would ring sleigh bells and we knew Santa had come. We would be bursting with excitement, but my mother would ask us to be still for a few moments. She would light the candles on the Christmas tree and ask us to think about the people who were no longer with us, and to be grateful for what we had.

My brother and I would play a couple of Christmas songs on the piano and all of us would sing. As kids, we hated this part – we just wanted to open our presents! Looking back, I appreciate why she did this. She wanted us to remember these moments and appreciate Christmas as a time for family and traditions and giving, not just receiving.

Looking back, I don’t know how my mom had all that stamina! Now that I’m in charge of the plan, I’ve taken things down a notch, but tried to preserve the important things that really matter.

I don’t write a family newsletter, but I do bake – a little. I still can’t get the stollen quite right, but I haven’t given up. My son now plays the piano and we sing along on Christmas Eve, and I make him wait to open his gifts (have to try and teach patience to the next generation after all).

I decorate the house with my own decorations, and thankfully with some of my mother’s that have survived the years. My husband thinks I go overboard, but I do it anyway. And we decorate the evergreen tree outside our house with real candles and light them. We watch the candles burn together and remember the special people, like my mother, who aren’t with us anymore, and we are grateful for what we have. And that’s what really counts.

From our FAMILY to yours, Happy Holidays!

Sylvia Witaschek

Associate Publisher

Washington FAMILY Magazine

[email protected]

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