Trees! Lights! Food! Christmas!
Currently, my social media is awash with pictures of Christmas trees. Lots of them. As usual, U.S.-folks are outdoing themselves with decorations and lights on their floor-to-ceiling, full-bodied trees (can trees be “full bodied”? I don’t know. Full figured, maybe?) By now, virtually all self-respecting Americans who celebrate Christmas have had their tree-trimming parties and are relaxing with a glass of eggnog on the La-Z-Boy.
This is the first year everrrr that our nuclear family of four is celebrating Christmas at our own home (well, at our landlord’s home, but whatever). No flights to the USA or over the river and through the woods to the rural outreaches of Frankfurt. Although we will miss family time, I am excited to finally start some of our own Yuletide traditions (and not getting out of my pajamas for three days straight). And, we get to HAVE A TREE. I am so ready to put it up, wrap it in light strands (I’ll be cursing like a sailor during that part; let’s fast forward), add some baubles, throw open our shutters and give the tour groups of old town Speyer something to ooohh and aaahh at.
Me: (to German-to-his-core husband): Let’s get our tree and have a decoration evening this weekend!
Husband: Um, no. That’s bad luck. NOBODY DOES THIS. Except stores.
Me: But, we’re a German-American household! Let’s put it up just a few days before Christmas!
Husband: Seriously, nobody does this. It is bad luck. The tree comes into the house on Christmas (otherwise known to Americans as Christmas Eve). Then we decorate it, then the kids go away for a few minutes while the Christkind (the Christ child) brings the presents.
The truth is, I know the drill after celebrating about 10 Christmases here. This is indeed exactly how it is done in German households. Festivities (generalization alert!) unfold roughly in this manner:
December 24: Decorate tree, open gifts, sit down for a late dinner (many German households serve a simple dish; potato salad, carp, fondue or raclette are popular traditional fare). Break into the libation cabinet. Shuffle off to bed.
December 25: Sleep in. Then, start preparations for Christmas feast of roast pork, duck or goose (or duck-duck-goose). The main thing: lots of meat (or fish). Start feeling the first inklings of cabin fever. Break into libation stash. Shuffle off to bed.
December 26: Don’t even think of heading out to the mall…we’re still on holiday schedule. Specifically, the “Second Christmas Day”. By now you are eating leftovers. Cabin fever is in full tilt. Take a walk, read a book, start plotting a spontaneous city getaway to take advantage of post-Christmas sales. Or, you know, hang out with your family (the libation cabinet is still in easy reach). Admire your now three-day-old Christmas tree. Shuffle off to bed, with visions of open stores dancing in your head.
Notice what (or who) is missing in the joyous festivities. A certain jolly, rotund, chimney fetishist (that was uncalled for, wasn’t it?). No Santa here, folks. St. Nikolaus does make the rounds, but on December 6. And he fills boots with, well, holiday booty. Old tradition calls for tangerines, nuts and chocolate. New tradition calls for iPhones, iPads and wads of cash. But again, I digress.
So, I will have to find a way to craftily weave in my American traditions with the German ones. The current compromise on the table regarding the tree is to put it up outside—with lights—and haul it in on Christmas Eve. I will also, ahem, stand my ground on opening at least a portion of our already minimal presents on the morning of the 25th.
Good-natured snark aside, I really do enjoy the way the holidays are celebrated here. I love Christmas Markets, which for me are a completely acceptable substitute for overblown holiday light displays (though I get a kick out of touring competitive light-display neighborhoods when I’m in the States). And I LOVE that consumerism comes to a crashing halt for two-and-a-half days.
And, hey, we might not have Santa, but at least we don’t have the creepy Krampus skulking around. You (you now meaning Austrians–which you aren’t, but who’s counting) just keep those there creatures in the Alps where they belong
Love your description of the German Christmas!
I grew up in Milwaukee with very German Grandparents. And we did everything on Christmas Eve including a light supper and a 11:00 pm church
Service and of course opening all the gifts!! Christmas Day was for relaxing…..almost forgot
The STOLLEN! Which is still a part of our Christmas
Today! My family insists that I make it every year!
I am a friend of Olgas and that is why I was able to read your Facebook entry! We in fact connected with Olga and Ed in Speyer one year for a brief afternoon!
I married an Englishman and we live 1/2 the time in Indiana and 1/2 the time in Newcastle UK where Christmas is not celebrated on Christmas Eve!!! And
Instead of Stollen there is Christmas Pudding and fruit cake!!! Love all the culture differences!!!
Thanks for your wonderful description of the American versus the German Christmas!
Our children were lucky enough to have two Christmases each year — Christmas Eve with my Austrian/Slovenian-American parents, celebrating in the German tradition , and Christmas morning with Ed’s American parents, opening presents from Santa Claus.
Hi Julieann, yes, I definitely know your name from my parents, thanks so much for your comments!
I can’t believe I forgot the Stollen! Oddly enough, it’s my dad–with no Germanic roots whatsoever–that likes them. The rest of us are on team “No, thanks!”
Would love to hear more about the traditions in the U.K.!
Best wishes and Happy Holidays!