Season’s Greetings 2021: The green leather pencil case

Annette Fischer penned a non-fiction story about a memory from her childhood in Switzerland. She is the first place winner of the <em>Tribune’s Spirit of Christmas </em>writing contest in the adult category. (Photo submitted)Annette Fischer penned a non-fiction story about a memory from her childhood in Switzerland. She is the first place winner of the Tribune’s Spirit of Christmas writing contest in the adult category. (Photo submitted)
As a child growing up in Switzerland, Annette Fischer had a special green leather pencil case that she was, as the tradition goes, supposed to keep her whole life. (Photo submitted)As a child growing up in Switzerland, Annette Fischer had a special green leather pencil case that she was, as the tradition goes, supposed to keep her whole life. (Photo submitted)

Annette Fischer

Season’s Greetings 2021

My daughter saw the ad for the Christmas story in the newspaper and she was excited and asked if she should participate. Immediately we started to think of fun topics for her story and her imagination went wild – I told her that maybe she should write something more personal than an out of the world fantasy story and then she gave me THE LOOK – which of course, true enough, if it is to be her story, she has to write it exactly how she wants it to! But this got me thinking on what I would write and I decided to give it a shot, so here we go…

For this story you will have to do a bit of time travelling plus even change continents as I take you back to about 1985 in central Switzerland. At that time, I was an elementary student, about Grade 2.

I have to tell you a little bit about the significance of a school bag and the accompanying pencil sheath. At the beginning of your school career, this is age seven in Switzerland, you will go to a store with your Godparents who then make a huge fuss over choosing your schoolbag and the pencil case.

It is a ceremony, really and this bag and case will either be your birthday gift for that year or under the Christmas tree, depending what time of year your birthday is.

This purchase is your first step into adulthood, no more Kindergarten, but almost totally grown up!

In those days, the school bags were made out of leather and so was the case. You would keep it for the rest of your school career and life. My bag was orange and my case was green.

And here is where we get into the Christmas story part.

December to me as a child was the very longest month of the year. In my imagination, you could easily fit a couple of months into those 24 days that would go by ever so slowly until finally, Christmas was here. In Switzerland in 1985, there were no Christmas trees around before December 24th and for me the Christmas tree was the most beautiful thing in the world.

Instead of Santa Claus, in Switzerland there is the Christmas child (an angel with wings and halo) who flies down from heaven and brings the Christmas tree to every family, candles burning and all, presents included.

However, the Christmas child did master this task, I did not know – but I believed in this because of my Mom’s ingenuity.

Come December 24th, my Mom was in a baking frenzy. Early afternoon, she packed up all these baked goods and my brother and I had to accompany her to deliver all these fresh treasures to many elders from our church. My brother and I would recite some Christmas poems to the seniors who then would give us cookies and peppermint tea in exchange.

Meanwhile at home (which my brother and I did not know) was our Dad, setting up and decorating the tree and laying out the presents.

When we returned home from our delivery tour, the living room was locked and the whole house was filled with an atmosphere that was very solemn and mysterious. We would have to wait for the ringing of a specific bell that came from the Christmas child and then we could enter the living room.

The strange and funny thing was, and I pieced it together after many years, that my Mom had to do laundry just before every Christmas Eve.

Our laundry was downstairs in the basement. But what she was really doing was bypassing the laundry pile and getting out of the basement, running around the house, climbing through the living room window, lighting up all the candles on the tree and leaving the window open, which while climbing out, she left some tinsel for evidence sticking to the curtains. Then she rang the bell and ran back around the house and back into the basement to her laundry.

The ringing of the bell was the sign that we could enter the living room – and there it stood in all its glory, the Christmas tree with lit candles and packages underneath! The magical atmosphere, the sight and smells, I will never forget! All the while my Mom still in ‘laundry mode.’

With all this knowledge about my excitement for the Christmas tree you now have to go back to the beginning of December when the Christmas excitement just started and the advent calendars only opened a couple of doors. Christmas was yet far away. Electric Christmas lights and illuminated decorations were basically nonexistent in our village in 1985.

You could count electrically-lit up trees in our whole village on the fingers of one hand. But our neighbour had a gas station along this big main road and he used to set up a Christmas tree in the beginning of December, just next to the gas pump.

On my way to and from school every day now during December, I would stop at that tree and just stand in front of it in awe – who cares about the traffic or gas pump as long as there is a lit up Christmas tree!

But the picture was incomplete through my kid’s eyes. The presents underneath were missing! I decided to do something to change that and home I went to find things that I could wrap up and lay underneath that Christmas tree next to the gas pump.

I wrapped all sorts of knick knacks, maybe 10 presents all together, all in different papers with bows and cards.

I don’t remember what it all was but one of the presents — I packed my green leather pencil case that I had gotten from my Godmother and which I am supposed to have for my lifetime – which I don’t because I put it under that tree next to the gas station, open for public to take.

I do remember that I admired my project and went home – but a while later I realized that maybe this had not been the best idea ever – however, the spirit of Christmas I had understood and every year, when Christmas comes around I will remember my green leather case and hope that someone really liked it. This is when my career as a good Samaritan started.

May you have a beautiful Christmas this year with a gorgeous tree!

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