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Christmas a time for memories – happy and sad

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Do you have happy memories of Christmas past? The Sophienburg is full of stories, photographs, tapes, and collections that reflect what people feel are worth remembering and saving. But Christmas can bring sad, nostalgic memories as well. Charles Dickens capitalized on that idea in “The Christmas Carol” when the Ghost of Christmas Past brought back painful memories of childhood rejection.

One Tuesday when the Sophienburg was full of volunteers, I overheard two Christmas stories that happened during WWII. One story was from Mary Adele Fenske Schneider, a newlywed at the beginning of the war, and the other was from Rose Emich who was a child of about four at that time.

Mary Adele Schneider, a New Braunfels native whose family goes back to the settlers, remembers her Christmas during the early days of the war. On Christmas day, she and her husband, Howard, made the eight mile trip to her grandparent’s farm close to Marion on Santa Clara Creek. Her grandparents were Carl and Adele Krueger and the large family would come to spend the night.

Schneider’s grandmother would begin preparation long before Thanksgiving with the baking of decorated cookies to be hung on the tree. The turkey was hunted by Schneider’s grandfather. In the yard was a large iron pot with a lid and fire underneath for cooking.

The Krueger’s house was large, but had only one indoor bathroom which posed an interesting problem when about 30 relatives spent the night. Never mind, the outhouse was still functional. Schneider remembers beds made up on the floor everywhere.

Carl Krueger brought the cedar tree which he had picked out months before on his hunting lease. He trimmed it all year long and it was finally ready  to be decorated with cookies, bon-bons, ribbon candy, and candy canes. Around the bottom were honeycomb rocks with scenes of tiny animals and a mirror surrounded by ice cream salt to look like a lake.

The German tradition was that children were not allowed to see the tree until Santa (a family member) knocked on the window and then disappeared, signaling that he had done his job. The presents from the grandparents were from Kress and Woolworth 5 &10 cents stores in San Antonio. This is one of those Norman Rockwell happy family memories.

A different memory came from Rose Emich, a new volunteer at the Sophienburg and a valuable one because she reads and translates German. Rose grew up in Germany and has been in the United States for 40 years. We were talking about Christmas customs and she had a very interesting, but sad story to tell about a Christmas that she recalls. She was three or four years old when she remembers herself crouched in an air raid shelter near Stuttgart, Germany. Her whole family was there, which was a comfort, but it was Christmas Eve, December 24, certainly the most important day of the Christmas season for a little girl in Germany. She remembers that the family had to be fully dressed at all times because when the air raid signal went off in the middle of the night, everyone had to get to the shelter before the metal doors closed or they would be locked out.

She had waited patiently for the Kristkind (Christ child) to come with presents. Her mother and father had decorated the tree in the living room, but she didn’t get to see it. Now here Rose sat in the bomb shelter.

She noticed a little girl next to her with a brand new picture book. Rose asked her where she got the book, and the little girl answered, “From the Kristkind”. Rose still remembers the disappointment at not being remembered by the Kristkind. What had she done wrong? She reflects back on those sad times especially at Christmas time.

Even Norman Rockwell couldn’t do justice to that one!

Merry Christmas from the staff and volunteers at the Sophienburg. Photo from the 1900s card collection of the Archives.

Merry Christmas from the staff and volunteers at the Sophienburg. Photo from the 1900s card collection of the Archives.