Taken from the Syracuse Union, Thursday, December 21, 1922 p.10
Poem under illustration reads:
The sun goes down on this holy night,
Hearts beat with contentment.
Goethe celebrated many Christmases in his long life and he received many grand gifts, but no Christmas present made a greater impression on him or more influenced his artistic development than the present his grandmother placed under the table decorated by firs for him during Christmas 1753. This was the famous puppet theater which can be seen to this day at the Goethe Museum in Frankfurt. From this first festive introduction to the world of the theater countless threads were tied to the poetic existence the boy would develop as he became a man. Behind his involvement with the puppet theater lay the beginnings of "Faust" and other great masterworks. How deeply this Christmas gift took root in Goethe's soul is shown in the first book of Dichtung und Wahrheit*. The story is reworked in the boy's narrative of "Wilhelm Meister." Book One states "At first we were shown the miniature stage with its silent characters, but then the figures came to life in dramatic performance. This became even more precious to us children because it was the last legacy of our grandmother, who soon after withdrew from us because of her illness and then was taken from us forever by death."
On the Christmas Day of 1755 or 1756 the puppet theater given to the four-year-old enjoyed a happy comeback, this time with live action and Goethe himself installed as theater director. We receive a clearer image of the profound impression this "most beautiful Christmas gift," as the boy Goethe called it, in an until now little known description in "Wilhelm Meister's Theatrical Calling," originally composed as a novel ten years earlier. "Christmas Eve approached with all its festivities," Chapter Two begins. "The children ran about all day then would stand at the window in anxious anticipation of what the night would bring. Finally they were called and they entered the parlor where each excitedly received instruction on what he or she was to do. Each took his or her appointed place and after a while was called to attention as an unexpected theatrical performance took place before their very eyes. A door which led to another room opened, which was not to be used for entry and exit but rather as an access to a scene of unexpected solemnity. A green carpet hung over a table. It was tightly closed but there was an opening in the lower section on top of which was a portal covered with a mysterious curtain. The upper portion of the door was covered with a dark green cloth so you couldn't see anything above. Everyone stood up and in curiosity tried to peer inside to see what might be twinkling inside behind the curtain but they were all nicely told to go back to their seats and wait patiently. Wilhelm was the only one who at a respectful distance remained standing until his grandmother, twice, then three times told him to sit. Then he too took his seat." The story of Saul and David was performed for the children. The impression made on the boy Goethe that Christmas Eve was emphasized with these final words: "The curtain came down, the door closed, and the entire company stumbled as though drunken off to their beds. Only Wilhelm, who had to leave with the others, laid alone in the dark comtemplating what had passed, discontent with his own satisfaction and full of hope, urgency and apprehension."
[*Translator's note: See Dichtung und Wahrheit, Book 1, page 13 and Book 2, page 54. Wilhelm Meister's Theatical Calling is not available online in English. The German text can be found at https://www.projekt-gutenberg.org/goethe/meisthea/chap001.html]
— Straightforwardness. How's married life, Mr. Meier? Good, but I've seen better days!
— Sentimentalist. "For my birthday," Black Marketeer Schöppler said, "we'll invite all our poor relatives so they can eat their fill then show begrudging envy!
— Childlike. The young son of an actor: Why do they call you "Hero's Father", Papa. Am I a hero?
— Enough said? Customer. Give me Dutch cheese instead of Swiss. The Swiss cheese is too wasteful. When you buy a pound of it you're paying for a half pound of cheese and a half pound of holes!
One can keep the beautiful decorations of Christmas fir branches green and thus keep the festiveness of the season alive longer by soaking them in liquid. Follow the experts' advice: Make a mixture of equal parts water and glycerin, or in like proprtion a solution of water and potassium chloride. Both mixtures, in which one soaks fir branches for up to two weeks, achieve the same result. Take the branches out of the mixutre after about fourteen days and let them dry. They can then be used to decorate the home. Needles don't fall from the soaked fir branches, leaving a lasting memory of the past Christmas celebrations.
Translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks, September 13, 2021