For the first time in a few years I am spending Christmas in London with my closest friends. It has put me in reflective mood – Christmases gone, friends gone and some loved ones, but London and the memories still here.
My parents were divorced, so I would spend Christmas Eve with Dad and Christmas Day with Mum. My father was a German refugee, an atheist, but with enough Jewish heritage to have to leave Germany just before World War II. He grew up and lived in a Catholic city Cologne, until his exile. Christmas was always celebrated on Christmas Eve, traditional in Germany and other parts of Europe. The family did celebrate Christmas and so despite the fact that for many years, my father lived in a bedsit after coming to England, he followed his traditions and would put up a live, quite large tree, highly decorated. As a child I would have to wait outside the door of the room, while he lit the live candles, put some Classical Christmas music on his record player and I was then ushered into the room to be given presents and cookies. It was a ritual that meant a lot to him and to me and it never changed until I went to boarding school.
My mother had a smaller tree and we would put together paper chains and hang them and other decorations. These paper chains took quite a while to assemble. They were strips of brightly coloured paper, with a bit of glue on one end. You have to lick the glue to make it tacky and then stick one end to the other linking it through the other strips to make a chain. My grandmother, who lived with me and my mother in our tiny flat on top of an old Victorian house, made a Christmas pudding and a cake ahead of the Day and then cooked the meal, roast chicken. The pudding had six penny pieces wrapped in greased proof paper cooked into it and the big thrill was finding a sixpence in your portion. Our memories of childhood Christmases are usually personal and precious and I treasure mine.
My father grew up rich and entitled, being the son of a Professor of Dermatology, at Cologne Universityin Germany, Emil Meirowsky. The family lacked for nothing. They had a cook, nanny, a chauffeur to drive the expensive Daimler. They lived in small mansion, filled with art including a substantial Durer collection. Everything was taken from them when the local Gauleiter (district leader of the Nazi Party) took the house and everything in it from the family and moved in.
So when we rush around buying more”stuff” at Christmas, I think of all that my father and his family had and how easily it was all lost. My father did not lose heart and got his father and mother out of Germany at the “11th hour” and made a success of his life in England. My grandfather was not allowed to practise in England nor the US where he finally lived. However he got himself a desk and a microscope, wherever he found himself and carried on with his research.
Material things really are ephemeral and it’s the people that count and the human spirit.