The abundance of gifts is not what Irmgard Liebmann remembers of her childhood Christmases in the 1930s. She knew life was hard during those economically depressed years in northern Germany. Despite the struggle, it was the joy of the season she remembers.
"Christmas was a happy time as a child," she said. After these many years, Christmas is still about happiness.
"We would always go to church on Christmas Eve," she said, describing her family tradition before they joined the LDS Church. "Father would attend with the five of us children while Mother stayed home putting up the tree and placing the gifts.
"It was always very nice," she said.
Now members of the Wilford 1st Ward, Salt Lake Wilford Stake, Sister Liebmann and her husband, Erhard, continue their native customs by wearing the traditional clothes of their homeland and celebrating Christmas over several days.
"I was 18 years old when World War II ended and our area of northern Germany became part of Poland," she said, explaining how she remembers residents of Poland "swarming" into the area following the war and taking ownership of the land and buildings owned by the Germans, including her father's farm. For their sustenance, Sister Liebmann said she and her family worked as servants for several years.
During this time, Sister Liebmann's father heard about two missionaries in the area and was interested in their teachings. He attended a meeting where they were expected to preach. When they didn't arrive, her father learned about the doctrines of the Church from the owners of the home.
Sister Liebmann's father was baptized in 1945. She joined the next year. "I was baptized in the Baltic Sea," she said. "My father and I would walk about a mile to Church meetings. Most of the family joined in the next months, including her mother.
During the next years, her family moved. Sister Liebmann lived in several cities before settling in Dortmund, Germany, where she married a member of the Church from Leipzig. By October 1963, with three children, they immigrated to Salt Lake City.
New customs and a new language tugged at their homeland heart strings, but the celebration of Christmas, with the feelings they had known in the Old Country, helped them settle into their new home. "Missionaries we had known in Germany brought gifts for our children and helped celebrate Christmas," Sister Liebmann said.
"As I recall, we surprised them at the door," said Richard Hinckley, one of the missionaries who knew the Liebmanns in Dortmund. "They were great people, solid in the gospel and really nice. I was released in July and kept some correspondence with them after returning. When we learned they had immigrated, several of us who knew them in Germany figured they probably didn't speak much English, nor would they know where to shop and probably wouldn't have much money, so we went shopping for clothes and surprised them by showing up at the door before Christmas. We celebrated that evening singing some of the great German Christmas carols like "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht."
After nearly 40 years, "I think back sometimes how nice it was," Sister Liebmann said, reflecting on that evening. "I had no idea they were coming."
Illustration by John Clark