Melissa & Gesa continue our coauthored festivity via Germany…
My co-author Melissa (aka MillyJK) is thinking of spending the rest of her life with a German guy. Here is what she is getting into:
In Germany, Christmas is a season just like Spring, Summer, Winter and Fall. It starts in the middle of November with a panic attack. Twenty-four little parcels wait to be packed for your loved ones. Each a declaration of love. Each worth a small fortune. Meanwhile in the UK, we’re given 2-for-£1 advent calendars filled with what tastes, increasingly through the years, like dog chocolate.
The “Adventskalender” counts down to Christmas Eve – when Germans celebrate Christmas and the little “Christkind” (Baby Jesus) in the predominantly Catholic South or the “Weihnachtsmann” (Father Christmas) in the mainly Protestant North come to bring gifts. Each announces his arrival by a little bell. But this is another 24 days away. Before that we have so much to look forward to. After six years of being with my German bloke, I’m now used to being gifted by the Christ-Child. At first I thought it was a little bit creepy, a baby gifting us all. They should be pure and untouched by consumerism. Then Christkind got me these amazing cashmere-lined gloves and better-than-Birkenstock slippers. Now I’m like, bring it on Baby Jesus.
On 5 December everyone has to polish their shoes. Do not forget or you will be punished by Knecht Rupprecht – a slightly less scary version of the Austrian Krampus. Here’s Christoph Waltz explaining Krampus to Jimmy Fallon!
If you follow the rules – which is something Germans love to do – you must leave your polished footwear in front of the door overnight and Saint Nicholas (a Father Christmas-y figure) leaves chocolate and other sweets in them. Oh my gosh, Krampus is a hairy-scary crazy monster. The poor children of Austria.
Teenagers and grown-ups often skip this tradition in favor of the ubiquitous “Weihnachtsmarkt” (Christmas market), of which every major city has several versions. Beyond their romantic exterior, they are basically trashy markets with loads of wooden toys and Bratwurst and Kraut. You will love the smells while wandering across the market looking for the best “Glühwein” stand (mulled wine). Be careful – it is hot and sweet and before you know it, you’ve spent 60 Euros on those little cups and are extremely drunk. But on your way home your path is lighted with lots of little candles and red stars in the windows of the houses. My German lover is a party-pooper for the Christmas markets – they represent three things he dislikes most in life: crowds, kitsch, and over-priced booze. Check out how the Germans love to shop at the English Christmas market.
In contrast to American tradition, you will not find a single house with huge decorations or a flashing reindeer in the garden (reindeer are no part of the German Christmas tradition), just a little star or candle pyramid in the window. Germans like to be reserved about showing off their wealth, and to be honest we are a close-fisted people. If you spend “too much money” on special decorations you can count on rather nasty comments like “did they win the lottery to spend so much money on something so useless”. (There are two things, though, where displays of wealth are not only tolerated but expected: cars and houses.) In the UK, some families compete with each other to have the most lit-up, decorated house. As one father put it, if you can’t see his house from Space, it ain’t worth doing. Meanwhile, his neighbours plan an Anti-Social Behaviour Order.
A decoration found in every household in Germany, on the other hand, are four red candles. They are placed on a wreath made of branches of a Christmas tree – the “Adventskranz”. “Erst eins, dann zwei, dann drei, dann vier – dann steht das Christkind vor der Tür” (First one, then two, then three, then four – then Baby Jesus comes to your door). It sounds a little bit more rhythmic in German, but still this poem, known by every child in Germany, certainly does nothing to explain why the Germans used to be called the country of “Dichter and Denker” (poets and thinkers). You light the first candle on the Sunday four weeks before Christmas Eve, the second three weeks from Christmas Eve, then third, until the fourth candle is lit the last Sunday before Christmas Eve. In my German family, the aunts get together late November and collect the greenery and cinnamon sticks and we make wreaths for all the family. I absolutely love it. Though they are essentially a dangerous hazardous peril; burning candles amongst a ring of dried pine needles is a recipe for disaster. We got a call two days ago to tell us the parents’ ceiling is burnt to buggery. Apparently it’s the third time in ten years, but my preposterous suggestion of electric advent candles was shot down because “it’s not the same”.
Another tradition is to build a “Krippe” (nativity scene) with Baby Jesus and his parents Mary and Joseph. The Krippe (the more elaborate and hand-crafted, the better) is placed in the living room and NOT to be played with. Why do we not decorate our houses but make such an effort to build something no-one outside the family will see, you ask? Well, I don’t have an answer to that. “Es ist wie es ist” – the most enduring of German sayings: It is as it is. And don’t you dare alter traditions! Germans are well-known for their conservatism and aversion to change. On a drunken night out, a young “Thor” (name changed to protect individual’s identity) decided to take a life-sized goat from the town’s nativity. The police soon caught up with him and explained to the inebriated teenager that however cute the goat is, it belongs with Baby Jesus.
“Schrottwichteln” is mostly used at Christmas parties. Everyone writes his or her name on a piece of paper and has to pull one of the other ones from a hat. The goal is to then find the most hideous present for this person. Germans like to recycle, so instead of shopping for a new present it is now the chance to get rid of one of the most hated ones received from last year. I can see this going wrong and accidentally giving someone back the well-thought-out meaningful present they bought me the year before; one man’s tat is another man’s treasure.
Another thing is food. During this special season you can eat “Dresdener Christstollen”. Basically a lot of butter with sugar, raisins and a sprinkling of flour in it, decorated again with loads of icing-sugar. And even though Christmas Eve is the main celebration day in the German Christmas tradition, do not think the main meal is anything special. Germans eat “Kartoffelsalat mit Wiener” (potato salad with Vienna sausage) as a traditional Christmas food and like to reserve the “big meal” for the 25th. As someone predisposed to diabetes, the cake-fest each afternoon will one day be the death of me.
All these preparations – and then, just a few days after Christmas Eve, you will find no sign of any Christmas celebration. Just a day or two after Christmas everything will be put away again to wait patiently for next year. Every season has its end. Another well-known German saying is: “Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei” – Everything has an end, only the sausage has two. And I do love a German sausage. Thanks Gesa!