The year was 1962 when I spent a year in Germany as a recent college graduate with a major in German. It was my first time away from my own family during Christmas. I was working with the Unitarian Universalist World Service Program as a volunteer, helping families who had recently escaped from East Germany and were seeking a better, freer life in West Germany.
I was invited home for the holidays by a young German coworker whose family lived in the mountains of rural Southern Germany. We took the train from Munich to the stop where her father met us in a horse-drawn sleigh. A beautiful moonlit night led us on a magical ride to the family's modest home, where I shared a room and a large goose down bed with my friend. The room was so cold we could see our breath.
The family prepared for Christmas with a live tree in an unheated room and decorated with real candles. Only the kitchen of the house was heated with a wood burning stove. A huge tub of water was heated for the Saturday evening bath which every member of the family used in hierarchial order. As a guest, I was allowed to go first.
The food for the Christmas meal was abundant. Very few gifts were exchanged. I took the family a small gift, a Swedish candle holder featuring angels ringing chimes as heat from the four candles turned them in a circle, which delighted the entire family. The family gave me one of the most memorable Christmases I have ever spent.