Merry Christmas!

I wasn’t supposed to get a Christmas tree… we had originally planned on going away for the holidays and Jan doesn’t believe in putting up trees any earlier than Christmas Eve. Then when we spontaneously decided to stay, I assumed there wouldn’t be time. But then Jan surprised me with this little fellow:

Christmas treeEven though it’s not very big, I didn’t have enough decorations to fill it and I have no topper because I’ve never had a tree before, but it’s cute and festive and looks pretty all lit up. I’m very happy with my first ever Christmas tree.

Lit Christmas treeMerry Christmas everyone! I hope you’re all having a wonderful time, wherever and however you’re celebrating. And now I’m off to eat pancakes filled with mince and vegetables followed by apple crumble. Christmas is for eating, after all!

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Let’s play Holiday Season Tag!

Sherbet and Sparkles

Charlotte over at Sherbet and Sparkles tagged me in this little game that she made up. Like me, Charlotte is a British girl living in Germany and she was interested in finding out how other people who are living somewhere other than their home country spend November and December… and so Holiday Season Tag was born. The idea is very simple… answer the questions then persuade fellow bloggers to join in. Got that? Then let’s go! First of all, my answers:

1. Do people celebrate anything at this time of year where you are? Are there any special customs?

In many ways, the Germans are the masters of Christmas! First of all, there are the Christmas markets. These are so good that, in recent years, they’ve even started popping up all over Britain! And imitation is the greatest form of flattery (or however the saying goes), after all. Nothing can chase away the blues of a damp, cold November better than a giant sausage and a Glühwein (or several) at the local Weihnachtsmarkt! Then there are the stands selling all kinds of things… from handmade soaps to Christmas tree ornaments, sweets, wooden toys, jewellery… I like looking around all the stall almost as much as the Glühwein!

Another thing the Germans do well is Christmas treats. I think most people know about Lebkuchen by now, but there are also Vanillekipferln (vanilla flavoured soft shortbready type biscuits (cookies) shaped like little moons), “Christmas” chocolate, such as the one by Lindt that I am drooling just thinking about, Nussecken, and – my favourite – Dominos. These have a soft Lebkuchen (gingerbread) base followed by a layer of fruit jam/jelly stuff (similar to the middle of Jaffa Cakes) and finally a layer of marzipan. The whole thing is then covered in chocolate. They are seriously addictive and I’ve actually had to ban myself from buying any before November. If I didn’t, I would eat nothing but Dominos from September to January…

Something that I didn’t know at all before coming to Germany is Nikolaustag. During the night from 5-6 December, St Nicolaus comes round to people’s houses and fills children’s shoes with sweets and small gifts… if they’ve been good! Apparantly bad children get a lump of coal, although I doubt that ever happens. Nikolaus has never filled my shoe with treats, but I do usually get a chocolate Santa from work on Nikolaustag.

Finally, something that shocked me when I first came to Germany is that Christmas here happens on 24 December! It still seems odd to me that Father Christmas comes in the afternoon, when everybody is awake. Also, it’s not always Father Christmas (or the Weihnachtsmann as he’s called in German) who delivers the presents. My boyfriend’s family had the Weihnachtsmann, but in other families – especially Catholic ones – it’s the Christkind, or baby Jesus, who brings the presents.

Phew, sorry that was so long! On to the next question…

2. Do you feel that you are missing out on anything by not being in your home country around the holidays?

Apart from the obvious fact that I don’t get to see my family, not really. Actually, Christmas at my dad’s house was pretty low key for a long time after my step mum died (on Christmas Eve). It’s only since my little brother has started to understand what’s going on that things have become a bit more festive again. I used to miss my Christmas dinner, but since I’ve started making one for friends a few weeks before Christmas I no longer feel deprived.

3. Do you go back home at all?

It depends. This year I am because I spent the last two years in Germany so I promised my grandparents that I would spend Christmas in England this time. I hope it won’t be as stressful as the last time I tried to go home for Christmas, when half of Europe’s airports were closed because of the snow! Annoyingly, both the airport I was flying from and my destination were open… but every one of the places we could have changed planes was closed… and there are no direct flights to Newcastle from here.

4. Back to your expat country! What’s the weather like during the holidays?

Cold! I’m actually lucky in that I live in one of the warmest parts of Germany, but it still tends to get colder than back home… and I come from probably the coldest part of England! So far, it’s not too bad here and the forecast is telling me we’ll be seeing daytime highs of around 3–4°C (roughly 37–39°F) over the next few days, but I fully expect it to get into the minus figures (°C) at some point. There will probably be snow as well once we get towards mid-December – in other parts of Germany, the snow has already started!

5. Is there anything you’d recommend a visitor do/see/have if they are visiting your expat country around this time?

Obviously the Christmas markets. I can’t possibly praise them enough! Even if alcohol is not your thing, you can grab a warm fruit punch or a hot chocolate and soak up the festive atmosphere.

BONUS! Post a photo that best shows what it’s like in your expat country around the holidays.

Snow at Karlsruhe Weihnachtsmarkt, December 2012
Snow at Karlsruhe Weihnachtsmarkt, December 2012

I would love to hear all about your experiences of the holiday season, so I tag everyone… but especially Lady of the Cakes, Expat Eye on Latvia (because I need to know whether Latvians are as Grinch-like about Christmas as everything else), Sara in Le Petit Village,  Molly from The Move to America, Katrin from Land of Candycanes and Deanna of From Casinos to Castles.

For ease of copying and pasting, here are all the questions together:

1. Do people celebrate anything at this time of year where you are? Are there any special customs?

2. Do you feel that you are missing out on anything by not being in your home country around the holidays?

3. Do you go back home at all?

4. Back to your expat country! What’s the weather like during the holidays?

5. Is there anything you’d recommend a visitor do/see/have if they are visiting your expat country around this time?

BONUS! Post a photo that best shows what it’s like in your expat country around the holidays.

Now go grab the button from Charlotte’s post on Sherbet and Sparkles and let’s play!

So that was Christmas…

All those days of rushing around like a lunatic, trying to get cards written, gifts wrapped and packages sent are now over, culminating in family and friends in various locations spending about a minute tearing off the wrapping paper and briefly admiring my offerings before moving on to the next brightly wrapped gift.

I sent a friend in England chocolate-coated Lebkuchen (a German gingerbread), which she has informed me she could happily eat every day of the year. Success!

My mum loves her posh herbal tea and has already started reading her book. My sister liked her book too.

My brother’s deodrant goes with shower gel and aftershave he got from other people. He’s happy because the scent he wanted is expensive and he couldn’t have afforded it himself!

The last few days my Facebook newsfeed has been full of photos and statuses referring to various babies’ first Christmases. Many of my friends gave birth to their first child this year and of course Christmas had to be recorded in minute detail. I’m sure I would be the same if it were ever to happen to me. Very cute photos of small children in their Christmas pyjamas. Those born at the beginning of the year are old enough to at least be somewhat aware, even if they did find the wrapping paper much more interesting than the gifts inside.

Our Christmas was busy. We arrived at Jan’s dad’s fairly late on 23 December. Christmas Eve for the Germans is Christmas day, but only in the evening. Until around 1 pm it’s an ordinary day and the shops are open. We went for a walk around the village then ate Lebkuchen while drinking tea. In the evening we ate sausages and potato salad before opening a few presents – one each for Jan and I. The rest had to wait until “my” Christmas. At midnight I opened another gift – a tradition in my family!

Early on the morning of 25 December we drove down to Jan’s dad’s girlfriend’s place (overuse of apostrophes in that sentence!). More gifts were exchanged there. By the time I’ve eaten all my chocolates I may never want to see another one again! Lunch was fish in a creamy sauce served with potatoes and tomatoes baked over with lots of cheese. Delicious! Afterwards we took advantage of a lull in the rain to go for a bit of a walk. It had started dripping again by the time we got back though.

We stayed there over night then drove up to Jan’s mum’s place on boxing day. Got there just in time for lunch, which was delicious beef from a happy cow (his mum knows the owners personally). After showing them our photos from Sweden we spent the evening playing Scrabble in German! There was one round where I did not come last 😉 Another night, another bed – we stayed there rather than going back to Jan’s dad’s.

Yesterday we came back to Karlsruhe, and tomorrow we go to Luxembourg for the New Year. A brief visit in our flat; two nights in our own bed then off on our travels again.

Christmas was busy, but fun. Next year I want to spend it in England again. After two christmases in Germany it’s time!

(Sorry, no pictures. Zemanta isn’t working and I didn’t take any.)

Merry Christmas! Frohe Weihnachten!

It seems we are going to Jan’s dad’s for Christmas after all, a decision that was made at fairly short notice after Jan finally got hold of his dad yesterday afternoon. The dad said he had no plans and we could come if we wanted. Jan wanted, and so we go. Today!! With one day less than I was expecting and no magic housework fairy to help, I only managed to get about half of the cleaning done. We will come back to a mess, but it can’t be helped.

Last night we had a picnic tea, trying to use up things that needed to be used up. I made sausage rolls from scratch because you can’t buy them here and I know Jan likes them.

basket
Picnic basket (Photo: uberculture)

I only figured out that I can make them myself this July! My achievement of 2012! LOL. There were also roast potatoes, sandwiches (to use up the bread) and carrot sticks to make it sort of healthy.

Right, I must go and finish sorting things out now. I want to put another load of washing on before we leave. It can dry while we’re away, ready to come away with us for New Year. Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you have a lovely time and get everything you wish for, whatever that may be (peace on Earth? An engagement ring? A white Christmas? I’m just hoping our train’s not delayed!).

Karlsruhe Christmas market 2012
Karlsruhe Christmas market 2012

Tis the season…

I had my final day at work for this year on Friday, so I can finally start getting into the Christmas spirit a bit. It looks like Jan and I are going to be having our first Christmas with just the two of us – usually we go to one of our families, but we decided not to bother with England after all the hassle with snow last year, and his dad had already made plans by the time Jan got round to speaking to him. So Christmas in our flat it is. I’m quite looking forward to it actually! Will be nice not to have to stick to anyone elses agenda.

Jan went over to a friend’s for a late breakfast (more of a brunch, I suppose) at 12:00 and 3 hours later he’s still not back so I’m taking the opportunity to get the flat into a presentable state, as well as making my last few Christmas cards. Only seven more to go! I just hope they actually arrive before Christmas. My family’s gifts probably won’t seeing as Jan only posted them on Friday! Not my fault though – the last few things that needed to be sent only arrived on Thursday. They will just have to have New Year’s presents instead 😉

Must go and rescue my tea before it goes cold. SO I shall leave you with a photo of my hedgehog doorstopper all ready for Christmas. He’s called Harry – nothing to do with me! That’s what his label said when we bought him…

Harry, the Christmas hedgehog