One more day until Christmas now. I swear, yesterday I still had a week. At least I’m done with my Christmas shopping, and I even managed to send out a handful of cards (by handful, I mean that literally, so don’t be disappointed if you’re not getting one). I’ve decided not to get sucked into all the usual Christmas stress, but rather, to enjoy the season and try and relax a little. I have to, as this car crash of a year simply has to end on a good note. 2020, I’m so ready for you!
But first, Plätzchen. Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without homemade German Christmas cookies. I’m not a very enthusiastic cook, but I do like to bake, and Advent is the perfect excuse to mess up the kitchen. I’m so lucky that S is the chef and happy to take charge of Christmas dinner with all its turkey, ham, roast potato and parsnip shenanigans, and I am merely relegated to being sous-chef and decorator.
But the sweet treats are my domain. Plätzchenbacken is a huge Advent pastime in Germany, and we always had heaps of Plätzchen when I was growing up, as my dad was the local doctor, and his patients often showed their gratitude by gifting delicious cookies and homebrews. This year, I’m trying out a few new recipes from Luisa Weiss’ Classic German Baking. So far, the Vanillekipferl are a huge hit, as are the Simple Christmas Cookies. My mouth is watering just thinking about them, which is odd, as I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. I’ve followed Luisa, aka the Wednesday Chef, on social media, since reading her first book, My Berlin Kitchen, a few years ago, and then of course had to buy her German baking book a couple of years after that. She even came to Austin on a book tour, and I turned total fangirl on her and couldn’t stop talking after getting my autograph. Just like me, she is a multicultural girl, an American-Italian who grew up in Germany and, after a stint in the US, decided she wanted to make her home in Berlin. Her story resonates so much with me, as it’s all about searching for home and identity. The cakes in her book are amazing, and so far, I’m very happy with the Plätzchen!
Of course we also like to incorporate some English things into our Christmas prep. While nobody in this house likes the traditional English Christmas fruit cake, which resembles a German Stollen, but is much more densely filled with alcohol-soaked sultanas and other shrivelled-up things, we do appreciate a decent mince pie. These are weirdly good despite all the raisins, but decent mincemeat (an alcohol soaked mush of dried fruits and spices) is hard to find outside of the UK, and we’re too stingy to pay extra for the UK imported version. Our seasonal English favourite is definitely the sausage roll, and S has been busy making a whole stash of these lovelies, albeit with vegetarian sausage meat. The dog doesn’t care and lives practically next to the fridge during the holiday season.
We even got our tree up! It’s not decorated yet, but I’m hopeful the decorating fairies will swoop in and do their magic before Christmas Eve. Currently they seem to be too busy sleeping in, hanging out with their mates and totally abusing my generous Christmas mood for endless Ubering to and from places. They still approximately 24 hours, and I’m not really bothered that the tree isn’t finished yet. Growing up in Germany, where many households wait until Christmas Eve to put up the tree and decorate it, I’m used to a little last minute action, and actually rather like it like that. Makes it even more special, and is a nice touch for Christmas Eve.
When to actually celebrate, ie rip open the presents, is always a little bit contentious in our household. I’ve long lost the battle of celebrating on Christmas Eve, as is tradition in Germany (although nobody is averse to opening a small gift or two), and so we usually follow the English/American way of celebrating on Christmas Day. Sometimes though, I miss that special festive vibe, a little Besinnlichkeit on Christmas Eve. I remember being a little girl and waiting all day with my sister for Heiligabend, and that delicious sense of giddy anticipation. We’d spend the day decorating the tree, maybe seeing friends and watching Christmas specials on TV, then we’d dress up a little, and when it got dark, we would listen out for the silvery tinkle of a tiny bell – the sign for us that Christkind had been and we were allowed to burst into the living room, where our tree was waiting, lit by real candles, the obligatory bucket of water in the background. S nearly had a heart attack when he spent his first Christmas in Germany and saw fire danger everywhere. Oh, and yes, I grew up in the South of Germany, where it’s not Santa, or the Weihnachtsmann, who brings the presents, but Christkind, traditionally a kind of reincarnation of the child Jesus. Being the agnostic that I was from an early age, in my mind, it never had anything to do with Jesus, but was simply a dainty, golden-haired angel girl. When my children were little, they loved the idea of Christkind coming on Christmas Eve, and then high-fiving Santa on his way during the night. Best of both worlds, I guess.
My husband and kids seem to prefer the more raucous (and to me, much less civilised) English style. When the kids were little, I found it hard to sit around in the living room early on Christmas morning, bleary-eyed, just out of bed and in PJs, as it really took away that special Christmas Eve magic for me, but over the years I’ve learned to go with the flow and just start drinking mid morning, while all around me is a flurry of ripped paper and tangled ribbons and Christmas chaos.
By the time the Christmas turkey is on the table, everybody is happily exhausted, mildly plastered and very jolly indeed! Especially after the very boozy Christmas pudding has been demolished. This is S’s absolute favourite part of Christmas, a brown, brandy-soaked lump of Englishness, set alight at the table and then served with cream or ice cream. Nobody else shares his enthusiasm for it, except for my mother, but we like the whole ceremony of it. After dinner, it’s the custom to collapse in front of the TV (we usually give the Queen’s speech a miss, as it’s just not convenient timing here in the US), maybe squeeze in a little walk to shift dinner, and then cobble together a sandwich with the leftovers before crashing into bed. Basically, the whole day is a blur of boozy cheerfulness. Which is really rather nice, actually.