I was born in 1955, only ten years after World War II, when wartime hardships were still fresh in people’s minds. Grandfather used to tell us children of the extreme hunger and exhaustion of those days, and the struggle of staying alive during the long freezing winter months.

Our town was in the heart of Germany’s industrial center, and everything was covered with a seemingly permanent layer of gray-brown dust from the steel mills. In springtime, the grass and green shoots quickly turned brown, and so did the fresh snow in winter, making its white coat look worn after only a day.

On the first Sunday in December, our family always gathered around the table in our apartment’s tiny kitchen. My mother, my sister Petra, and I lit the first candle of our Advent wreath and sang Christmas songs, as our thoughts journeyed far, far away from the dusty city to the three wise men traveling on camelback. Each week a new candle was lit, and peace and joy filled our hearts as the story of the manger which awaited the birth of our Savior came alive.

Then came the long-awaited event of Christmas bakingspecial indeed, since butter, nuts, and eggs were sparse, and chocolate was a rare treat. With the delicious smell of freshly baked cookies still filling the air, we carefully stored each batch in large tin cans.

On Christmas morning, we went to see the tree, prepared the night before by our parents. We all crept into the living room while Papa lit the candles one by one with a long match.

What joy it was to find stockings filled with homemade cookies, nuts, chocolate, oranges, and apples, and new knitted dresses for our dolls. There also were crayons and coloring books, hats, gloves, and scarves.

These were days of simple joys and handmade toys. The memories serve as a reminder to me to search for true value, for the human touch, for things that last—especially in the fast-moving times we live in today, filled with technological gadgets and screen-based activities. They are also a reminder to keep my eyes open to the needs of others, to love, and to share. That’s what makes this season a truly unforgettable one, leaving its beautiful mark on the memories of our children and those we meet.