Merry Christmas – Frohe Weihnachten!

Jack has just run up to me and asked me, if it’s not too much trouble, to do a Christmas blog post. So here it is. Mainly I’m reflecting on how, even though it’s only the 24th, “Christmas” has well and truly started here in Germany.

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A few years ago when we were in London, we booked a flight to Sweden to “spend Christmas” with our mates. I rung H on the phone and said, “Yeah, yeah, I’m looking at a flight that arrives in the afternoon on the 24th, so …” and she said, “So, you’re arriving on Christmas Day?” And I laughed. Silly H, doesn’t she know when Christmas is? “No, we arrive the twenty-FOURTH, not the 25th.” Duh.

“The 24th is Christmas Day in Sweden.”  Ah. My bad. And as soon as you start asking Folk From Other Lands, “Hey, when do you guys celebrate Christmas?” you get a whole stack of different answers.

In Germany, Christmas Day is 25th but there’s a whole bunch of stuff happens on 24th too. Let me try and explain as best I’ve worked it out for myself:

Today is 24th – Heiliger Abend which means “Holy evening”, basically Christmas Eve. Most shops are open till about 1-2pm. This is usually the day that German families put up their Christmas tree. Yep, not till 24th! Most churches will have a Krippenspiel, a nativity play, some time in the afternoon, and after that most families will have a big meal, sing carols, and later on maybe go up to mass in the church at about 10pm or so. The opening of presents happens on the 24th either before or after late mass, probably depending on the age and energy levels of the children.

So what are we doing? Well, we got our tree a couple of days ago and decided just to put it up the next day – apparently this is quite acceptable! Joe and I took our last chance to get to the supermarket and get food for the next few days – OK, and a couple of last minute presents too. Molly went up to the village Krippenspiel this afternoon and got back about 5pm and then we all opened our presents. We are having dinner with J’s parents (who live upstairs from us) at about 8pm. I’m a bit crook today so I don’t think I’ll make it up to a 10pm church service.

Tomorrow is 25th – Weihnachten. Total public holiday just like in NZ. More big meal with family, more church-time, probably a late start if you had one too many schnapps the night before. We are off to have a meal with W’s parents, via church where W’s mum is singing in the choir.

And then 26th – St Stephens Day. All shops shut, otherwise similar to our Boxing Day in that it’s a time chance to visit other family members, play board games or go for a drive in the countryside. We have no plans at all – we’ll just relax and see what the day brings.

Here’s some photos from when we bought our tree in the village on Saturday, and of the kids just before the starter’s gun goes off to open presents.

Hey – Merry Christmas to you. Thanks for reading my posts and I hope to keep you all informed with what we get up to in 2015.

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This photo doesn’t really capture the howls of protest from Molly that our tree was too small.

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6th December – Nikolaus!

During Advent, children in Germany get an early Christmas gift delivery from St Nicholas – Nikolaus!

On the evening of 5th December children leave out their shoes for Nikolaus and in the morning they will find “small treats”: cute stuff like chocolates, bikkies, mandarins, maybe a few coins.

Being in the village confused poor Nikolaus, because first of all, late on the evening of the 5th, he delivered their treats to the shoes that Jack and Molly’s had left out for him and the children enjoyed those on Saturday morning.

But he must have forgotten we are not staying with J & W anymore, because they showed up on Saturday afternoon with two shiny platters of treats that Nikolaus must have left with them, by mistake.

Then he was even more confused when he must have left the children another delivery of nuts, sweets and fruit outside the door on the evening of the 6th, right where F & B (J’s parents) have to walk past to their apartment upstairs.

And then, just in case, he had also left some at W’s parents’ house as well. Silly Nikolaus! So forgetful 🙂

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Life in Germany 3: Making the Bed

There’s not really any such thing as a double bed here, it’s just two singles pushed together.

And you might think oh yeah, so what, just push them together and get a double fitted sheet over that shit, all sorted.

No mate. There’s no double sheets. There’s no double sheets or double mattress protectors or double duvets. What you have is two single beds pushed together, with two single sheets, and then two single duvets on top.

I can see you’re mulling this over. You’re probably thinking “Hmm, how do you snuggle under two single duvets”. Yeah, you sort of can’t. Typically one duvet ends up on the floor, but that’s where having good central heating is OK. But hey, you don’t know the half of it yet. How do you make the friggin bed?

Oh by all means go and Google that shit (like I did) you won’t find anything. So I’ve been trying out some combos, you know. Unfortunately I might have tried out one too many because now I like the bed made one way and Joe likes it different, dammit. Anyway, he’s what we’re looking at, use the comments section below if you want to wade in.

So I did this one first, folding the duvets in half lengthwise …

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But I don’t really like it. In fact, I don’t even know what I was thinking. It looks like two sausages lying on the bed. Like a frigging double hotdog or something. So then I went with this method, folded in half across the width:

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And I quite like it, although you can’t cover the length of the bed, so it looks a bit like a teenager whose grown out of his jeans.

But Joe didn’t like it! He preferred the first method. When I asked a German friend “how do you make the bed?” she said “Obviously you only make your half and Joe has to make his side”. Okaaaay, so that would mean our bed would look like this:

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So I’m sticking to my guns with folding across the width, turning it 90 degrees, having the ENORMOUS square pillows come down to almost meet it, then covering the “ankles” with a blanket or throw. Chuck in some contrast cushions and you are nailing it:

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What’s that? None of my bed linen matches? You’re darn right it doesn’t! If I have to choose between buying matching sheets and putting petrol in the car for my next adventure …

Weihnachtsmarkt – Christmas Market

This isn’t really a “life in Germany” post because I want those to be everyday things. A Christmas market is a proper one-a-yearer.

It’s possible the original desire to go to Strasbourg was not totally random, and if that’s the case then its enormous Christmas market was a factor. I’ve been hanging out for a winter Christmas since we left London. It doesn’t have to snow, but I want cold, I want dark at 4pm, I want tinkly lights and candles, I want gorgeous shops, mulled wine and I want EVERYTHING smelling like cinnamon.

Ironically as I am sitting at the kitchen table writing this – it is snowing.

So last weekend was our village Christmas market – that’s Weihnachtsmarkt in your German. Molly’s primary school wanted baking brought three days before, and parent help on the stand. I said yes because I just say that when people say things like “Do you want to Gegheimtshfrem turrheihshoden Ungerhspfoheff on Sunday?” and then having said yes I find out what that thing is.

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Luckily W’s mum invited us to do some Weihnachtsbacken at her house the Friday before. We spent a wonderful afternoon where the children brandished cookie cutters and icing, strained redcurrant jam and nibbled the mistakes. Everyone asked me whether Christmas baking is a “thing” in New Zealand – what do you think? I would say it can be, but it’s another one of those things that makes a bit more sense on a winter afternoon. Here’s some snaps of the kids in action:

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And the end result (this was just our share of the massive output):

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When Molly took her biscuits into school, they divided everyone’s contributions up into 300g bags, tied them up with nice ribbon, and they were ready to go on sale on market day.

Market day

So your big cities like Stuttgart, etc with have their Christmas Market for several days in December – in our village it’s just one day, the first Saturday of Advent.

There are stands selling gorgeous Christmas wreaths, decorations and lots of food and drink. If it’s an excuse to just go down and hang out, it’s a good one. It was a cold day which I think makes the Glühwein taste better. We had a look around with our NZ friends who were in town, but then 2 o’clock rolled around and Molly and I checked in for our shift on the Grundschule (Primary school) stand.

The stand was selling donuts (Weihnachtskugeln) with cinnamon sugar or just sugar, big slices of hot meatloaf in a bun (Fleischkäse) and mulled wine with alcohol (Glühwein) or without (Kinderpunsch). So yeah, OK, that is a fairly short menu and it does limit the range of conversation topics, but I managed to greet customers, give them their orders, tell them the price and remember to charge them the Pfand for the mug, all in German thank you very much.

Meanwhile Molly was manning the stand where kids paid €1 to try four “challenges” and win a prize – eg, one of them was the attendant would drop a walnut down a length of opaque plastic pipe, and you had to be ready to hit the walnut with a hammer when it popped out.

She also had a role in the Kinderchor (Children’s choir), and there were a few choirs and musicians during the day. As a footnote, this village seems to be quite a musical one. There’s a music club, it’s not unusual to see kids walking around any time of the day with a large suitcase-containing-instrument, and now I’ve joined the choir for the Adventskonzert on the 21st of December.

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I’m so pleased this one was my first Christmas market! We are planning to visit a couple of others this month though, starting with Heidelberg this weekend, and Strasbourg the weekend after.