Stories of her childhood Christmases seemed rather bleak to me. Her presents consisted of an orange (a delicacy), a handmade bonnet or apron, and perhaps a peppermint. Her family didn’t put up a Christmas tree, or decorate their house with any kind of holiday finery.
The part of her holiday stories that fascinated me completely, however, was her tales of Belsnickeling– a tradition her ancestors brought over from Germany. Young adults in the neighborhood would dress up in old clothes, tuck their hair into a cap or bonnet and blacken their faces with coal. They would travel to the few houses within walking distance and announce their arrival with “Open the door and let the Belsnicklers in!” When they were invited inside, they had a grand time trying to keep their identities hidden. After awhile, though, they were recognized and given treats. The Belsnicklers were particularly frightening to young children, and my grandma remembered being afraid of the strangely dressed people who invaded her house every holiday season.
But apparently her fears didn’t have a lasting effect. When she grew older, she and her siblings did a bit of bellsnickeling of their own—begging for Christmas treats and scaring young children.