Ausländer Annalise (Travel Series): The Weihnachten Zeit (Christmas Time)
Christmas celebrations happen all over the world and are treasured traditions. We all have our own we look forward to each year. Living abroad or traveling during the holiday season allows you to experience Christmas from a different perspective and culture. It’s almost like experiencing Christmas for the first time again. Even though the traditions might be a little different and your favorite Christmas songs are sung in a different language, the same, familiar holiday magic you know is still very much “present,” so to speak 😉
The Christmas season begins in Germany on December 1st with Advent. Children and significant others alike prepare and receive 24 little stocking-stuffer-type gifts, one for each day. The commerical marketing for Advent calendars in Germany is so huge, almost like the way Black Friday is advertised in the U.S. Now, I am not saying that Advent is not celebrated in the United States, but in my experience, it has only been acknowledged during church services.
Normally, you can either make your own Advent calendar, or you can buy pre-made ones at countless stores. In Germany, there are calendars with makeup, LEGO, chocolate, nail polish, or perfurme gifts just to name a few. The store-bought ones come in a box with the numbers 1-24 written on the front. Each day, you pop open the little door of the respected number to reveal your small gift. Part of my au pair duties this holiday season was to wrap all the Advent gifts for both of my host children. That is 24 small gifts per child; 48 in all. Four and a half hours later, I completed my tasks and was left with sore fingers and a stiff back. However, the wrapping turned out beautifully, and on December 1st, I came into my room to find chocolate and make-up Advent calendars waiting for me as well. After experiencing my first German Advent, I think it’s safe to say this will be a new tradition added to my American Christmas celebrations in the future.
About a week into the Advent season, comes another special German tradition, Sankt Nikolaus Tag. Observed on December 6, this is the day when children first find out if they have been good or bad that year. The night before, children should place a pair of cleaned boots (Nikolaus-Stiefel) outside their front door in preparation for Sankt Nikolaus’s overnight visit. In the morning, their boots will either be filled with chocolate, candy and other sweets if they have been good, or a stick if they have been naughty. Traditionally, Sankt Nikolaus is dressed like a bishop and is accompanied by a man named Knecht Ruprecht who is supposed to beat the naughty children or shake a bag of ashes at them. Thankfully, our household, myself included, was very well-behaved this year, and we received our Sankt Nikolaus Teller (St. Nicholaus Plate) at breakfast on Dec. 6th. (Since my host-children are older, they don’t do the whole Nikolaus-Stiefel gig anymore, just a surprise plate of sweets and things when they come down for breakfast in the morning.)
The most well-known German tradition is probably that of the Weihnachtsmarkt, or Christmas Market. Every town and city creates a village of handcraft and food stands as well as entertainment displays for all to enjoy while walking around with their Glühwein. The next largest city closest to where I live is known for having the world’s largest Christmas tree display at their market every year.
My Christmas experience abroad has been a great mixture of learning new ways to celebrate, as well as remembering what this time of year is all about: Spending time with those you cherish, appreciating your loved ones and vise versa.
The end of 2016 also signifies the year mark of my au pair stay. As I reflect on the last 12 months, I will never forget or take for granted how much my host family has become a huge part of my life, nor how they embraced me as an extended member of their family from the very beginning. We have created so many memories together and because of their generosity and kindness, I have experienced more than I could ever imagine; many highlights I have been able to share with you every month along the way.
As this year draws to a close, I am writing this post from the comfort of my bed back in Colorado…however, not because I have completed my au pair stay in Germany, but because my host mom gave me the opportunity to go home for the holidays so that I may return in 2017 with an extended invitation to continue to be their au pair: an offer so genuine and heartfelt, I couldn’t possibly turn it down.
So I say until we find ourselves here again in 2017: Viele grüße diesem Weihnachten Zeit, einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr, und bis später! (Many greetings this Christmas season, happy new year and until later!)
This is a contributor post by Annalise Kraus; an avid traveler and reader of physical books. A Colorado native and a Music City grad of Belmont University. Follow her adventures on Instagram: mona_lisey_smile. You can read all of her City Guides here and catch up with her Auslander Annalise series here.