December has been full of so many cool new Christmas traditions, but that's not all. At the beginning of this month, my host family had company over and we had a raclette dinner. I had never seen a raclette grill before, but apparently it's not just a German thing. Basically you get a bunch of ingredients: chicken, sausage, mushrooms, peppers, broccoli, cheese, and bacon. Then you can cook your food on the top grill or use the little pans and set them underneath to cook multiple items together.
The raclette grill.
The next day we started baking Weihnachtsplätzchen (Christmas cookies). I was really surprised by how early we started cooking in the month. We made so many different kinds: Vanillekipferl, Spritzgebäck, Kokosmakronen, Spitzbuben, Nussecken, and my host father's grandma's special chocolate cookies. From dawn to dusk, we worked on these cookies.
Vanillekipferl (sugar cookie dough shaped into moons and then sprinkled with powdered sugar after baked).
Spitzbuben (two sugar cookies with marmalade between them).
Spritzgebäck (basically just sugar cookies but put through a cookie press).
Kokosmakronen (coconut cookies).
I also wanted to bake something American, so I chose to make rice crispy wreaths that my grandparents always make for Christmas. This turned out to be not such a great idea. I spent half an hour covered in hot melted marshmallow for only nine wreaths.
December is the month where I started getting super busy. I finally found something to do outside of school that interested me and that is painting. Once a week, I attend a Malschule, or painting school. My class consists of three other students that are all younger than me by at least five years, but their art skills far outshine mine.
I also FINALLY started taking an after school German class. On Mondays and Tuesdays I take a train to Köln for an hour and a half of lessons. While obviously the goal of these lessons is to learn German, I also have the added benefit of getting out of my little village and exploring life in a big city.
This month, I got to experience a unique part of my host family's yearly traditions. Every year on the third Sunday of advent, they pack into the car and drive to Lingen, a town in the northern German state of Niedersachsen. Then they spend two and a half days singing and putting together a Christmas play. I sang in the choir and got to learn lots of new German Christmas songs. My host family has took part in this for almost ten years, and being a part of it was super cool!
December is a time to be surrounded by friends and family, and my December wouldn't have been complete without seeing my American exchange family. Click this to read more about our visit to Köln.
While my host family didn't wait long to bake Christmas cookies, we did wait pretty long to get our Christmas tree. My host father and I made the five minute journey to cut down our Christmas tree on the 18th, only a week before Christmas.
Me cutting down my own tree for the first time!
My host family didn't believe that lots of American families carry their trees home on top of their cars. Germans prefer to transport their trees more practically, in the trunk. Because only two people went and the tree was slightly shorter than me, there was enough room for the tree in the back.
For Heiligabend (Christmas Eve), my host father's side of the family came to our house to celebrate. We started off the evening with lots of little appetizers. Then we moved on to potato salad and wurst. Dessert was a glass of mascarpone, cherries, and spekulatius (a german Christmas cake similar to graham crackers).
Christmas Eve dinner.
We didn't end up actually decorating the tree until the morning of the 24th. German Christmas trees are more monochrome and less eccentric than for instance, my tree in the US. We decorated with only red and gold bulbs. One thing that I found really cool was that my host family puts real candles on the tree.
Because my host family is insanely musical, before opening presents we all sat down next to the fireplace and played and sang German Christmas songs. My favorite song was "O du fröhliche".
My host mother Barbara playing the guitar.
Gesa, Svenja, and Marit (my host sisters).
Even though I'm away from family this Christmas, I felt extremely included in all my host family's festivities. We ate together, we sang together, and we laughed together. Although we didn't have a white Christmas, I found the German holiday season fantastic.
At 9 pm, my host family bundled up and walked to the village church for Christmas Eve mass. Even though I'm not Catholic, I thought the service was nice and the nativity set and trees were very pretty.
December 29th was the 16th birthday of two of my host sisters, Marit and Svenja. I helped decorate this cake and then they had their family birthday, which had lots of good food and I got to see some "old" faces again!
Marit and Svenja's birthday cake.
On Silvester (New Year's Eve), Marit and Svenja had their 16th birthday with all their friends. We watched movies, played Singstar, listened to music, and watched fireworks. Something completely new that I had never heard of before was Bleigießen. Bleigießen is when you melt these little lead figures down on a spoon and when it becomes liquid, you quickly pour it into cold water. Then the lead forms into a certain shape, which is supposed to tell your future. I didn't put mine in water fast enough, so my future was just a bunch of tiny pieces of lead :(
Five minutes before midnight everyone went outside to prepare for the show. As soon as our phone screens said 00:00, the sound of all the neighbors lighting their fireworks was accompanied by a chorus of people all wishing each other a "Frohes Neues Jahr".
Spending the last quarter of 2016 in Germany has been amazing. I'm hoping that the same goes for the six and a half months that I have left!