The aroma of the Christmas goose drifting from behind a closed door, mingling with the scent of pine from yet another quickly closed door. Coats and boots dripping with melting snow falling on my feet and the hallway runner. Large mysterious packages quietly slipped through a door behind which nothing but velvet darkness lingered. A soft green wool dress swirling in a darkened hallway and patent leather shoes reflecting white silken knee socks. These were all part of a very special night in Copenhagen in 1945, the first Christmas Eve after World War II had ended.
Earlier, leaving our apartment with armloads of gifts, my parents and I had eased into the warm seats of an awaiting taxi and watched the holiday lights reflect on the black exterior of the moving car.
As the auto rumbled through city streets, we observed hurrying crowds bustling from store to store with last minute errands, while others, like ourselves, were carrying gifts wrapped in bright Christmas paper. All were dressed in warm coats and mufflers and everyone was headed for the homes of family and friends in order to share with them this exciting evening.
This was THE big night and it all began with the new dress, sewn from soft green wool, embroidered in red and white holiday flowers and made especially for me for this occasion. The very feel of the gown, as it fell softly around my knees, held promises of a wonderful time at my grandmother’s home where, in addition to my father’s mother, we would be joined by his bachelor brother and maiden aunt.
Traditionally, every Christmas Eve began with amber-colored sherry, sparkling in antique, crystal goblets and the bell-like clinks as five adults toasted, while a smaller glass, bubbling with red soda tickling my nose, helped heighten my festive mood.
Grandmother studied cooking in France. On this night, she served succulent goose, mouth-watering red cabbage, tiny potatoes browned in butter giving them a caramel look and a tempting aroma.
When all this was devoured, it was my turn to help in the kitchen. With a starched, crisp, white apron wrapped around me, protecting the new green dress, I stood on a small stool, chest just above the counter, and beat the metal whisk until small peaks swirled from the ice cold, heavy cream. This would be smoothly blended with fruit, nuts and rice into the rich, traditional Danish dessert.
After the holiday meal was over, I would sit on the kitchen “hot-box” filled with musty newspapers and country-fresh straw, where previously the dishes had been kept warm. Seated, I sang Christmas songs for my grandmother while she prepared steaming hot coffee for the adults and warm, delicious cocoa for me.
Then, after what seemed an eternity, my father and uncle would call from behind the sliding doors leading into the previously closed living room. As the doors squeakingly receded into the walls, they revealed a dark fir, shining with lighted candles, gold and silver ornaments, saved from years past and now reflecting my bright eyes.
My grandmother and my father each took my hands as we joined up with my mother, uncle and great aunt, and slowly circled the stately fir. Old Danish hymns rang out in bass, tenor, and one small soprano voice while thin tinsel strands fluttered from the fragrant branches like silver rain.
Later, as a feeling of peace fell on the room, I sat on the smooth oriental carpet, family and presents all around me, and watched the flames in the coalstove sputter against the glass window.
At the age of five I was too young to know that some day the green woolen holiday dress would become an important part of my memories. I would recall that this was a time when the tiny kingdom, the home of Hans Christian Andersen and The Little Mermaid, had again returned to a fairytale land; coming out from its long years of darkness and into the lights. The presence of the Nazi regime would be gone, but not forgotten; the King would resume his daily ride along the streets near the harbor, and my mother and grandmother would again take their Sunday stroll through the walking street in the inner city.
I would remember this time, as I still do, with a warm heart and recall that this Christmas Eve in 1945 would forever symbolize peace on earth and good will toward men.
Heidi’s mother and grandmother shopping in Copenhagen after the Nazi occupation ended; the little green dress.
Heidi Thurston’s “The Duchess, The Knight and the Leprechaun” is available from Amazon and Second Wind Publishing.