December 20 Prompt:
Did your family attend religious services during the Christmas season? What were the customs and traditions involved?
Growing up Catholic, naturally we attended Mass every Sunday (and usually every Friday at Catholic school). When my son Eric was little, we attended the Lutheran church (back then the church of his father). At both we observed Advent with the lighting of the wreath. I also remember some midnight services, and passing the flame from individual candle to candle.
Another custom in my family has been setting up a Nativity scene. Somewhere in the 1960s, my mother bought a beautiful Lotte Sievers-Hahn (1908-1987) hand-carved wooden set made in West Germany, pictured at the top of this post. I believe we started out with just Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, but over the years more pieces were added. By 1968, we had the stable, Three Wise Men, a camel, cow, deer and fawn. By 1979, when the photo above was taken, we had added two shepherds, a number of sheep, and an angel. We also got rather clever setting it up, using books to create "hills," hanging the angel and a star, and adding a light behind the stable for dramatic effect. My parents still have this Nativity scene and say it's worth about $400. Apparently you can still get pieces for it.
My parents gave me a Nativity scene when I got out on my own, by 1982 when the picture to the right was taken. It's ceramic and the name "Cathie Byrnes" is penciled on the bottom of the largest piece, but I haven't been able to find out anything about her. Despite traveling to Washington state and back to Texas, it has survived intact except for the ears on one of the donkeys. Nowadays during Advent and Christmas, it resides on the mantel above the fireplace, where it blends in well with the limestone.
To the left is a photo I took in 1982 of the Nativity scene at my Uncle Ronald and Aunt Rose Mary Pape Dietz' home in Glenview, Illinois. The caption I wrote on it at the time said it was "in the Pape family for three generations." I'm not sure if that means it originally belonged to my great-grandparents John and Gertrude Kramer Pape, or if it came down through my paternal grandmother's family and originally belonged to Frederick and Elizabeth Dienes Massmann, or even to Fred and Regina Mattheis Dienes. All of them (except Elizabeth Dienes Massmann, born in Illinois) were German immigrants, so it is possible the Nativity scene was brought over from Germany. Unfortunately, this Nativity scene may have been left behind in an attic in Florida after my Aunt Moe (Rosemary Pape Dietz) passed away in 2007.
(This is post #20 in the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories hosted by Geneabloggers.com. Originally published December 20, 2009; slight revisions were made this year.)
© Amanda Pape - 2010