Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas Between Two Cultures

So, I've never really been much of a "Christmas person", but I have to say it's a lot more fun when you have kids. Mia is so excited. She talks about Santa Claus constantly, has watched the Frosty the Snowman song at least a dozen times on YouTube and today got her first piece of chocolate from the Advents Calendar (this is going to be a hit for a sweet tooth like her!) We also made a (wonderfully crooked) advent's wreath together last night and then wrote Christmas cards while listening to Bing Crosby sing White Christmas. Seriously, the only thing that was missing was hot chocolate with marshmallows and a candy cane or two....

Still, there are of course differences between how Germans and Americans celebrate Christmas. Some of the differences I've known for a l
ong time: Germans open their presents on Christmas Eve and don't have stockings. They have Christmas Eve (Heiligabend), Christmas Day and Christmas Day 2 (apparently to recover from the Christmas Goose and all the mulled wine they drank on Christmas Day number one...) But now that I'm actually celebrating Christmas here I've realized there are other even more subtle differences. I discovered these when I went out shopping with Mia for Christmas ornaments since I didn't have any (told you I'm not a Christmas person.) Here is more or less what I came back with:

When I showed them to Jasper he said: "Oh no, not those! Those are SO spiessig!" Spiessig is a hard word to translate, but I would say the closest definition would be by combining dorky, uptight and bourgeoise into one word.

"Wie bitte? Christmas balls are spiessig?" Garish maybe, especially since Mia picked them out and so they were purple and gold paired together with red tin foil. But spiessig? I tried to get him to explain to me why, because in my mind they are pretty much standard, but the best he could come up with was "They just are." I had also bought some of these straw ornaments which are typical in Germany.

"What about these?" I asked him. "Are they also spiessig?"
"No, those are ok," he told me.

We talked about it again today and how fun
ny it is that when you're from a different culture you sometimes don't make the same assumptions. Jasper is even less of a Christmas person than I am, yet he has certain opinions about things that I found surpring, for example, that ornaments should always be wooden.

"The worst and most spiessig of all is when people have electric candles on their tree."

Wie bitte? "Do you seriously mean that people should have real lit candles on their tree? Isn't that a pretty hardcore fire hazard?"

"Oh sure," my non-Christmas loving husband answered. "There are lots of fires every year."

So I've learned a few things so far this jolly holiday season:

Number one: there is little chance of talking my husband into getting these electric candles with a convenient remote control.

Number two: we are still not putting real lit candles on our tree because I think I'd rather not burn the house down, thank you very much.

Number three: we are most definitely hanging stockings with care in hopes that Saint Nicholas soon will be there.

What can I say? Christmas traditions are truly diehard, even for two Scrooges like us!


Kathleen said...

Hi Rebecca! I found your blog via your Design Sponge guide to Berlin. It's awesome, thanks so much for that! I'm coming to Berlin from December 14-21 with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus to sing at the Philharmonie, and I was wondering if you had any tips for holiday stuff... like, which markets are the best/coolest... though, based on this post, you're maybe not much of one for the Weihnachtsmarkt? ;) Oh well, it never hurts to ask.

I've already spotted a few things on your city guide to check out while I'm there... lived in Freburg for a year studying abroad in college, so I will definitely be hitting up Schwarzwaldstuben! Otherwise, I have been to Berlin a few times before, though twice with touring groups who saw the same sights. I'm interested in exploring and going off the beaten path, so you've already given me a great head start on that plan this time around!

Schaufensterbabe said...

Hi Kathleen, Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you liked the guide. Actually, even though I'm not much of a Christmas person, I do like a good Christmas market. As far as tips, avoid the ones in the touristy areas like Potsdamer Platz and around Zoo because they are really pretty trashy. The one at Schloss Charlottenburg is a little better. A good one that is definitely off the beaten path is at the U-Bahn station Rathaus Spandau (Spandau is definitely not one of the "cool" areas of Berlin.) The market is really big though and it's in the old town and since the area is neither trendy nor touristy it's a nicer than the other markets. Still, overall Berlin isn't known for its Weihnachtsmärkte. If you get a chance you might want to hope on the train and go over to Dresden or Leipzig where the markets are supposed to be great. Have fun! :)

Kathleen said...

Thanks for the tips! In fact, I am going to Dresden -- I have an extra day on the front end of my trip before rehearsals start so I'm going to see the restored Frauenkirche and hit up the markets there, which I hear are awesome. So excited! Plans are coming together... now I just need to be sure I pack the right things so I don't freeze my toes off :)

Schaufensterbabe said...

No problem. Have a great trip. Sounds like you're going to have fun. :)

Laura said...

Ah yes, we have those issues also! One year I hand-embroidered a christmas ornament for my (german) inlaws, only to realize later that they only have these gold bows and straw and wood ornaments on their tree. But they are so kind, they hang it up, terribly un-matching on the tree anyways (or at least when we visit).

You know what else is confusing? The US of course has Santa Claus, but in Germany we have St. Nikolaus day, then there's also the weihnachts man and the christkind bringing presents on the 24th. I'm not sure my two boys are going to believe anything in a few years! Too confusing!

Schaufensterbabe said...

Yes that's true. I think I've sort of blocked out the whole story with the Christkind. As far as I understand it some people think the Weihnachtsmann brings the presents and others think the Christkind flies with them through the window, but I can't really keep it straight. Leave it up to those wacky Germans to make Christmas darn complicated! ;)


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