Ah, Christmas. We had a few days of snow up in Tahoe, which was beautiful. The trees looked like they had a thick layer of icing sugar on, and we expected Santa and his sleigh round every corner.
But now we’re back home, and it was way too warm to feel the spirit. But hey-ho, we tried, spent the whole day today preparing the house (me), the food (S) and the excitement (E&F). Being of English and German descent, our children get a double-whammy of Christmas delights. I’ll try and sum it up for you (and while I’m doing this, I’m conveniently creating a list of things to remember, which I can come back to next year, as there’s quite a lot to remember. Genius!). Our Christmas preparations and celebrations usually proceed as follows:
The 4th Sunday before Christmas: It’s the first of Advent. When I grew up, we always had a big wreath with four fat red candles on it, and would light one candle for each Sunday before Christmas, until we could light all 4 on the Sunday before Christmas Eve. I’ve not kept this tradition in our house, as I could never be bothered to find a proper wreath in the UK (although they do have them in the States). But we have a wooden Christmas nativity carousel, which we light every Advent Sunday.
Night from the 5th to the 6th of December: St. Nikolaus visits good children. The girls have to clean their shoe of choice (riding boot in E’s case, not that she’s greedy or anything) and put it outside their bedrooms. St Nikolaus usually comes in the middle of the night and deposits some little gifts and sweets in the shoes. When I was a little girl, he would always visit us at school too, and have his grumpy helper with him. We were told that the good children would receive a gift from St Nikolaus’ sac, while the naughty ones would get whipped by his helper. I was always terrified and dreaded the worst, although I was the epitome of a goody-two-shoes. Needless to say, I spared my girls the whole story, and they are more than happy to grab the presents without asking for the reasons.
Getting the tree: When I grew up, we never used to get the tree until just a few days before Christmas, which made the wait more special, but also induced various degrees of panic, as sometimes, there weren’t any decent trees left by that point. We’ve certainly had a few straggly little firs, but somehow that was just the way it was, and we were always happy with whatever we got. The tree certainly never used to get decorated before Christmas Eve Day! This has changed in our house. We usually get the tree 2-3 weeks before Christmas and decorate it IMMEDIATELY. I like the smell of the tree in the house, and having it there for a couple of weeks before the big day(s) makes me feel more Christmassy.
Christmas Eve: The biggie in Germany. This is when Christkind arrives with the presents. Now there exist various different versions in Germany on who delivers the presents. In the north, it tends to be Father Christmas, but in the south, and in particular staunchly Catholic Bavaria, where I grew up, it’s Christkind (who is supposed to be Jesus as a baby, or some explanation like that) who visits good children. Due to the fact that my parents weren’t particularly religious, I never associated Christkind with Jesus or God, and have always imagined her (!) as an angelic looking girl with golden curly hair. And this is who my children believe in too. No matter where we are, Christkind always arrives on Christmas Eve. Usually the children are asked to play somewhere other than by the Christmas tree, and wait for the tinkling sound of Christkind’s bell. When the bell has rung, they know Christkind has been, and are allowed to find their presents under the tree. Again, there are tons of different versions of this. I know some families who look the door to the living room (or wherever the tree is) until Christmas Eve, so the children haven’t seen the decorated tree at all, which makes the whole experience even more special and magical, but doesn’t really work in normal houses where there’s not much space if you lock the living room. Anyway, the presents and Christmas dinner all happen in the evening, which means that there’s usually not much drinking going on during the day – it’s all condensed into the evening. And this is where the English side of Christmas kicks in. Before they go to bed, E and F have to make sure Santa and his reindeer have an easy journey, by laying out food (German plaetzchen and English mince pies) and drink (water for the reindeer and beer for Santa – Elise came up with that one when she was 4).
Christmas Day: Having already received a few gifts the night before, the kids aren’t any less excited on Christmas Day. They’re up bright and early and creep down to check that the reindeer and Santa have demolished their feast and then go and find a whole lot of new presents under the tree. And of course, S and I can’t miss this, throw on a dressing gown and join in, knowing that by about 9am at the latest, it’s all done and we can sneak back to bed while the kids are playing with their new toys. Oh, and not before the turkey’s in the oven of course. And of course only if the presents don’t include something that needs to be assembled by an adult. I remember last Christmas, spending 3 hours helping E set up her Playmobil equestrian centre (oh how I loved it). Around mid-morning, we’ll start drinking buck’s fizz, waiting for Christmas dinner, and then the rest of the day is spent eating and drinking, with little breaks in between dozing off in front of the TV, and then some more eating and drinking. I suppose tomorrow will include non-stop Skype with our loved ones, who can witness it all live.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that E and F also have their very own fairies, who a) both get gifts and/or letters from the girls, which are left under the Christmas tree, and b) deliver little gifts for E and F (taking their own letters and/or gifts with them as they do so). As you can see, there’s quite a lot going on… and this year’s easy, with only us 4 and no other friends or relatives to consider! So I’m pretty sure you’ll understand that I have to go now and pour myself a very large Christmas-Eve-in-preparation-for-Christmas-Day drink.
P.S. it’s 11pm and Santa’s food and drink have been gobbled up. The presents are under the tree, and the fairies’ letters have gone. Anything else?