Childhood memories of a candle-lit Christmas

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

It was a Christmas that is imprinted in my memory forever.

I was eight years old and excited about what Santa would bring. My parents and my aunt were busy with decorating the tree and putting the presents in place, with Santa’s help, of course.

The door to the room was closed, but we were told that he was in there.

My cousins and I were so excited, and a little scared that an important person like Santa was actually in the next room.

Our parents were poor, but they always made Christmas special with whatever they could afford. 

We could hear strange voices coming out of the room. It was probably Santa. He must have come in through the big window that my father opened just for a minute to let him in.

It was a very cold night. The coal stove was burning in the corner. Santa could not have slid down that narrow pipe that conducted the smoke from the stove to the outside. Even we could figure that out.
So, it had to be the window. 

Then it became all quiet in the room. Soon the door opened, and all the kids went inside.

A big tree stood in the far corner of the little room. Presents of all kind were under it. Our parents were grinning from ear to ear as they saw the excitement on our faces. 

Then I looked up, and saw that the tree, which already had some dry branches on it, was lit up by candles.

We could not afford lights, so my parents and my aunt put candles around the front branches of the tree.

I couldn’t help focusing on those candles as their flames flickered. There had to be at least a half dozen of them. 

I kept staring at them. In my child’s mind, I could envision the tree, room, and perhaps the apartment house, going up in flames. I had this uneasy feeling that the candles needed to be blown out.

I asked my mother if we could put out the candles. The small flames were eventually extinguished. The presents were great - just what I wanted. I could enjoy them once the candles were blown out.

We got lucky, but many people are hurt and even killed because of things they do during the holidays. So, don’t do what we did, because you’ll burn your house down.

• People are 50% more likely to die in a house fire over Christmas than at any other time of year. Taking care with candles and oil burners is one way to help you and your family and friends avoid a Christmas house fire.

• Not putting burning candles on a live tree helps as well. Always place tea light candles inside an appropriate container. They have been known to burn through baths and television sets.

• Space heaters are one of the greatest fire-starters. Don’t place them too close to the tree, bedding, carpet, or anything that can easily become overheated and catch on fire. If you have doubts whether an old heater is still safe and functioning properly, discard it, and buy a new one that is UL (Underwriters Laboratory) certified.

• Nineteen people have died in the last 3 years believing that Christmas decorations were chocolate.

• Thirty one people have died since 1996 by watering their Christmas tree while the lights were plugged in.

• One hundred and one people since 1997 have had to have broken parts of plastic toys pulled out of the soles of their feet.

And there are ways not to dispose of your Christmas tree.

Willy Thevessen threw his Christmas tree out of a third floor window.  The problem was that somehow he managed to throw himself out of the window, too.  It was late at night, and he may have seen a German TV commercial showing people throwing their old trees out of the window.

Thevessen suffered severe head injuries and was taken to a hospital.

Around here, we encourage you to save your tree for the county parks department to be placed on our beaches to build dunes.

Have a safe Christmas, and don’t watch any German TV commercials.