(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

After World War II, apparently in Cologne, Uncle Franz Lenz’s wholesale grocery business is bouncing back from a slight wartime interruption. The Lenz family—Uncle Franz, Aunt Milla, Johannes, Lucie, young Cousin Franz, and assorted grandchildren—have come through the conflict almost intact. Only Aunt Milla has been deeply unsettled by the recent bloodbath—because her Christmas celebrations were curtailed.

Cousin Franz is something of a conscience for the family, a young man of notable piety who scandalizes them by becoming a boxer. The first to notice how badly askew things are, he has little sympathy with his father, identified by the narrator as the kindest of men—who provided his wife a private bomb shelter and a car to take her to the country whenever air raids threatened—nor with his mother, who is still grieving that ornaments on her Christmas tree were damaged by nearby bomb explosions and that Christmas festivities were cancelled in 1940.

Now that those unpleasant times are over—the narrator can scarcely bring himself to mention the war by name—Aunt Milla is insisting that Christmas be restored right down to the angel at the tip of the tree, who actually whispers “peace.” Uncle Franz is prosperous enough by 1946 to gratify his wife’s wishes. He spares no expense to obtain the decorations, food, candies, and candles that Aunt Milla had enjoyed in the old days. When it comes time to take down the Christmas tree at Candlemas (February 2), the usually charming old lady begins to scream. Neurologists, priests, and psychiatrists are summoned to the house, but the shrieking goes on unabated for almost a week. Cousin Franz, who will not participate in indulging his mother, suggests a visit by an exorcist, but Uncle Franz comes up with a different...

(The entire section is 733 words.)