It's hard to believe it's only two days left until Christmas! I have been able to see and do so much this Christmas season and I cannot wait to see what the actual day will bring! But for this blog, I will be focusing on the a very few of these small traditions that have made this Christmas season so special.
- Santa- There are basically three different variations of what I know of as Santa Claus(four if you count Belsnickel for the naughty children). Saint Nikolaus is one variation who is based of the real saint born in the 1400s. This saint performed many miracles and is remembered by bringing children candy or presents in their shoes on the night of December 6th. He is generally pictured wearing red with a wooden staff and tall, pointed white hat. Der Weihnachtsmann is closer to our version of Santa who brings presents under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve (Heilige Abend). He is pictured very similar to our own Santa (thanks Coca-cola!). The Christkind is a heavenly angel in the Catholic religion who was sent from God to bring the children presents on Christmas Eve. The Christkind wears long robes and is mostly pictured with her/his arms downwardly outstretched. Children who grew up in a Catholic household tend to believe more in the Christkind rather than der Weihnachtsmann, but overall it is completely dependent on the household.
- Christmas Markets- Die Weihnachstmaerkte are very popular to go to during the weekends in December, with Germany having over 10,000 Christmas markets every year. Nearly every city has a Christmas market, and if they don't it's only a short train or car ride to the nearest. The Christmas markets are usually set up in the center with small wooden shops selling everything Christmas: figuriens, ornaments, clothes, jewelry, Schnizel, Wursts, beer, and so much more. They are beautifully decorated and even smells like cinnamon and apples! These Christmas markets are closest to a Winter Wonderland I have ever seen! (minus the snow of course). I was even lucky to be asked to be in a Paderborn Weihnachtsmarkt documentary! We held sparklers, drank Kinderpunsch (traditional kid's drink), and sang Christmas songs with a saxophone band playing behind us. That was an absolutely unbelievable experience, and it was all thanks to my local coordinator!
- Decorations- My guest family told me rather quickly that the decorations aren't as colorful or plentiful as the pictures they'd seen about American Christmas, and I would say they were absolutely right. I would assess that my little German town appreciates the more traditional colors and subtle Christmas decorations opposed to the flashy lights I was used to seeing. The red and gold, candle advents, and white twinkle lights made the already beautiful streets and cozy indoors feel even more like my new home. There were many new decorations that I've never heard of or seen before such as Schwibbogen, Pyramiden, <picutred above> and handcraften wooden ornaments. One of my favorite decorations is known as the "smoking man" (Rauechermaenchen) and is essentially a wooden figure with a inscense being burnt on the inside. The smoke then escapes through the pipe of the figure which creates the smoking man illusion. In addition to these fun decorations, my family even takes the time to find and cut down a real Christmas tree every year! I've never had a real Christmas tree before, and the one thing I didn't think of was how wonderfully Christmas-y they make the house smell! ;)
- Heilige Abend/Christmas Eve- Christmas day is not nearly as big as Christmas Eve. All the small Christmas traditions are done on Christmas Eve: opening presents, the big meal, church visits, and christmas movies all come on Christmas Eve. So, don't be surprised to hear that the Chrismas countdown and chocolate advent calenders all stop on the 24th, not the 25th.
These traditions, trips, decorations, and food, while wonderful, are not my favorite part about this year's Christmas season. No, my favorite parts have been the late night movies in pajamas drinking hot chocolate/tea with my guest sisters, the christmas concerts with my band and choir, and the small get togethers with my friends. My favorite December memories are the Christmas parties after tests in school, the baking of Platzen cookies, the weekly lighting of the Advent candle, and the Christmas sing and talk shows. With the language barrier being hardly noticeable, I have been able to share and learn more about the people here. I feel absolutely blessed and honored to be able to both confusedly explain what the dessert fudge is and listen to the German Christmas songs that everyone here seems to know by heart.