Ah, it’s The Holidays again. That time of year when we should reflect on the past twelve months and make some plans for the next twelve. It is the time of the year when we try and finally get all the shit done that we haven’t managed to squeeze in or just turned a blind eye on…. I don’t know about you, but those last three weeks of the year always feel more like three days.
I always feel extra traditional during this month – maybe because Advent and Christmas were such a magical time of year when I was a little girl, and even a teenager, in Germany. And Christmas in England is a very special affair too, just more boozy and less besinnlich (as is usually the case with the best German words, there’s no perfect equivalent in English; “contemplative” comes closest). Living so far away from my original and adopted home countries, I often crave silly little things and traditions, some of which are impossible to transport over here, and which I feel my family needs to have, because it just wouldn’t be Christmas without them. But while I can get a few things to stave off homesickness, it’s no mean feat squeezing three countries’ Christmas traditions into one household. Our children are used to this mix of influences, but as we all spent our childhoods in different places, each of us has a slightly different take on what Christmas is all about. What we all agree on is this: Having three different sets of traditions means we get to celebrate longer and better than monocultural families. And even though they’re teens now and there’s a lot of eye-rolling and being too cool to actually enjoy it, I know they secretly still like all the things we do. At least that’s what I tell myself.
Starting off the “Holiday” season, of course, is our current country’s very lovely Thanksgiving. I really love this celebration, as it’s all about spending quality time with family and/or friends, without any of the pressure of present buying. This year, we spent Thanksgiving in separate corner of the world – S took E to England, and F and I escaped to California and had what felt like an extended Thanksgiving, catching up with friends we hadn’t seen in ages and enjoying a few days off work and school. I even went one step further and left my laptop at home, making those few days very much about personal rather than digital interactions.
As soon as I got back to Austin, and just in time for the first Sunday of Advent, I rushed out to get a wreath and candles. In Germany, it’s tradition to have an Advent wreath with four candles, one for each Sunday before Christmas Eve (I make do with just one big candle in the middle). I also dragged the Christmas decorations box out of its hiding place. To be honest, I was surprised I managed to find it, as we still have a shamefully big and chaotic amount of unopened boxes in the storage room. My absolute favourite Christmas heirloom, the pyramid, came out first, and I’m delighted it’s still undamaged, even after all those moves. It lives in an ancient, bent and ripped cardboard box that’s still got our very first address in England on it (I know, I’m a bit of a soppy old whatsit). This pyramid is a very traditional German ornamental carousel, which takes very special German Christmas tree candles. To my great delight, I just discovered that I can order these as German imports on Amazon, as my supplies have almost run out. My favourite candles are made from beeswax and smell delicious.
I also treated myself to a visit to the World Market, a nationwide chain for homesick immigrants, and stocked up on German chocolate Santas, Marzipankartoffeln, UK imported Cadbury’s chocolate fingers and McVities Ginger Nuts. Then I swung by Trader Joe’s to grab some American-style peppermint mini marshmallows and an advent calendar for my dog, and found that I could get German Lebkuchen and Stollen here too. It seems the US has me covered. At least for now, until I find the time to bake some real Weihnachtsplätzchen.
Next on the December calendar: celebrating Saint Nikolaus. On the eve of December 6, children in Germany put a (clean) boot outside their bedroom door, and wake up in the morning to find it filled with goodies, courtesy of Saint Nick. Typically, these include oranges, chocolates and maybe a book or something not too extravagant. Here in the US, this concept is obviously paralleled by Santa and the stockings hung over the fireplace and filled with stocking stuffers/fillers, but I prefer putting things in actual shoes. It’s so wonderfully German. Keeping it real.
Having teenagers, however, is seriously impacting my Christmas cheer, as I hinted at before. It’s a little like having toddlers, with all the attitude, the tantrums, the selfishness, just with more door slamming and more verbal punches. I know I’m super annoying, trying to engage them in anything Christmas-related, but I can’t help it, and stubbornly stick to my usual agenda wherever I can. This year, I feel the need to do this even more, as this might be the last time E is actually home for Advent. This year, I also feel like threatening them with Krampus on an almost daily basis. Krampus, as in Saint Nikolaus’ sinister sidekick, who’s there to punish the naughty children. This tradition is really rather terrifying, when I think about it now, but when I was a little girl, it was just a normal part of Christmas. To this day, I can remember the sense of utter terror, us kids sitting in our classroom (Nikolaus and Krampus would visit during the school day) and hearing the heavy footsteps, Saint Nikolaus knocking his staff on the classroom door, and then, worst of all, the horrible sound of rattling chains, as Krampus crept ominously into the classroom, following his cheerful companion, a sack over his shoulder to put the naughty children in.
Much to my delight (and horror), I might actually get to see Krampus here in Austin. One of our finest local brass bands, the Dead Music Capital Band, is celebrating Krampus terrorizing the children of the world, during the Friday the 13th Krampuslauf at St. Elmo Brewery and during Krampusnacht at Live Oak Brewery a week later. Trust Austin to come up with a way to combine old traditions with beer. It’s a win-win, if you ask me, and it means that I’ll be able to drag S along, who usually just sneers at anything Christmassy. Unless it’s Christmas pudding, but more about that later.