As we all know, I took the ever so huge leap across the big pond two weeks before Christmas. This sounded just fine and dandy, until Christmas actually arrived and then I was regretting every bit of the date I picked. The first few hours of Christmas day were spent locked in my room watching The Grinch, repeatedly, until I ever so candidly opened my mind and actually enjoyed this holiday from 4600 miles away.
With the holidays upon us and my journey as an expat just beginning, I have been asked the same two questions time and time again. First, why did you do this? And second, do they celebrate Christmas the same?! Because Christmas not celebrated the same would certainly not be Christmas, right?!
Living in Germany has certainly taught me a few things about the American heritage as we know it. As an American, we tend to conform to our own little bubble and forget that we, in fact, are not the oldest nation and most of the things we take for granted, were bestowed upon us from greater nations. Let’s take Christmas, for example. We have the Christmas tree, Christmas carols, Christmas cards and Christmas decorations. They are both in America and in Germany. But guess what, all of these traditions started in Germany! Who knew?!
Adventskalender, Lebkuchnherz, Ghulwein, Adventskranz, Weinachtsmarkt, St. Nicolas, Weihnachtsgurke and The Christkind have all flooded my first few weeks in Germany. When I say flooded, I really mean flooded.
English, Hanley, English. Big words in German usually have a pretty simple meaning in English, and I am slowly learning that. SO…
Adventskalender- Advent calendar? Exactly. The Germans all tend to have one of these hanging somewhere in their homes. Each day, another gift is opened, another piece of chocolate consumed.
Adventskranz- Advent Wreath. The advent wreath is similar to the advent calendar in that it is a countdown to the upcoming Christmas. The wreath contains four candles, representing the four Sunday’s before Christmas. Every Sunday, a candle is lit until are all gleaming the week of Christmas.
St. Nicolas- Santa doesn’t come to Germany. (How tragic!) December 6th, Saint Nicolas pays a visit to all the GOOD children (also a German tradition) in Germany, filling their shoes with nuts and candies. St. Nicolas resembles the Santa Claus we all know, although he is a little less plump (just like all of Europe) and doesn’t carry a huge sack of gifts because….
The Christkind does! The Christkind tradition was developed in the 16th century when Protestant believers wanted to put less emphasis on St. Nicolas and more on the true meaning of Christmas. The Christkind, or Christ child, was adapted and is the known figure of gift bringing. The present delivery date also changed from December 6th to Christmas Eve. What does he look like? He’s an angel, usually with blonde hair and he brings all the children gifts with his wings. No sleigh, No reindeer and no payment in cookies.
Weinachtsmarkt- Christmas Markets! Christmas Markets are street markets located all of Germany during the four weeks of Advent. Christmas Markets are AWESOME! They consist of little huts all filled with ornaments, figurines and trinkets you will probably buy but will never need. These markets are filled with food, beer and of course Gluhwein and Lebkuchnherz. They looks something like this.
Glühwein, or mulled wine is a delicacy that is available at every winter market across Germany. If there is one thing that they ALL have in common, its Gluhwein. Red Wine, Cinnamon, Cloves, Oranges, Honey, Allspice and Nutmeg are all mulled together and served piping hot. Because burning your mouth certainly keeps your mind off the bitter cold winters.
Lebkuchnherz- Gingerbread hearts. Too many of these went home.
Weihnachtsgurke- The pickle in the tree. Which, in fact, I have yet to see a single one while in Germany. After some homework, it occurs that many Germans do not follow this ‘tradition.’
– The Christmas trees are decorated with ball and wooden ornaments There aren’t many character ornaments. Most are made from straw.
– The entire celebration is on Christmas Eve. Christmas day just consists of a fancy dinner at home.
– Three days off of work! Most stores are open Christmas Eve in the morning, but then the entire country just shuts down until December 27th. Except Pizza places, they’re open on Christmas day.
– The Christmas tree always goes up Christmas Eve and not a day before. It comes down January 6th, Three Kings Day. No questions about it.
– January 6th, Sternsinger (Star Singers) will ring our door bell and sing Christmas songs.They are dressed as the three wise men. These men go to every door in town.
– The Christkind coming on December 24th before the children go to bed sure makes it harder to get those presents out on time.
And finally, Silvester! Silvester is the celebration of the New Year! I will be ringing in 2013 (seven hours ahead of everyone at home! ha!) in downtown Munich at the Tollwood Winter Festival.
Happy New Year!