Christmas in Germany
December is a wonderful month filled with the joy of the holiday season and excitement of children all bundled up in fluffy scarves and warm jackets. Colorful, glittering streets and the smiles on peoples faces. The crisp cold air and the warmth of a sparkling fire, in the distance you can hear the chimes of bells and Christmas carols and the air is filled with aromas of rich spices. The joy of Christmas is everywhere!
Counting down to Christmas, here in Germany, starts with the beginning of Advent. Soeren (my seven year old son) especially loves this time of year. For him the magic of Christmas chimes in on the 1st of December with the opening of the first door on the Advent’s calendar. A few years back I stitched small green and red felt bags and decorated them with snowmen, reindeers, elves and the numbers 1 -24 – the days till Christmas Eve! Since then Tom and I find extreme pleasure sneaking about on the last evening of November filling those bags with goodies and small toys, then hanging them up around the living room. Often Tom gets the even days and I will take up the odd days – each one adding a surprise for the other partner. Our Advent calendar has become very dear to us.
The beginning of Advent also means Christmas markets, where every city sets up booths and stalls selling everything from decorations, crib figures, gingerbread, food and warm Glühwein – typical German spiced wine. We really love this time of year. The merry spirit absorbs us completely, sucking us into all it's glittery glory. The crisp cool air is radiating making our noses and cheeks tingle. As we walk down the cobblestone streets, we like peering into the shop windows all decorated in sparkling tinsel and colorful baubles. It's all so cliché, I know but we just love it.
We adore the old Santa, year after year, ringing away on the golden bell wishing everyone "A HO! HO! Christmas!" The perfumed bouquet that lingers in the air is a gorgeous mix of gingerbread, spices and mulled wine. Foraging for gifts at the over-crowded stores makes me laugh and I say to Soeren "Didn't know there were so many people in Weimar!"
I will sing along loud to Last Christmas by Wham! for the hundredth time while standing in a queue, never allowing those funny glances make me miss a beat. Often those funny glances turn into smiles as people begin tapping their feet to the tune. Between wrapping paper and ribbons, I search for ideas for Christmas dinner. Duck or turkey, mousse or parfait? And yes, I just love all that Christmas baking!
We like to give little homemade sweet treats to friends and colleagues as gifts. Cookies, pralines, jams, or as of this year macarons all spice up the kitchen. We then prepare decorative bags filled with these treats and write our best wishes on cards for our dearest friends. This is something very important to us. It's personal and comes from the heart. Every year we also make the traditional fruitcake. I know how some disdain over fruitcake in the US, but this one is special. Moist and packed with nuts and dried fruit, this cake improves as it get older!
In Germany we get to open our presents before the rest of the World does! Christmas Eve is the big day. On the 24th December we bring our tree in and spend the afternoon decorating it. As the early evening breaks in we gather together with our friends and walk to church to watch the nativity play. On the way home we are excited – “Has Santa already been there?” I can feel Soeren’s anticipation as he wants to race back home. Yes- Santa (read this as Tom) has visited us and placed boxes of beautifully wrapped presents under the tree. Soeren can hardly wait to rip the paper off and see if all his wishes he had asked for on his wish list have come true. We cajole him a little and persuade him to open the presents after dinner.
Dinner on the 24th is usually something that has caught my eye in the planning weeks prior to the big day. In the past we've had shrimps, fish, turkey and beef roulades, but I think my all time favorite has got to be succulent and tender duck breast. I love the texture and flavor of duck breasts. Moist and divine, duck breasts are wonderfully versatile and can often be matched with fruit and works well with plums, pears and grapes. A wonderful recipe for duck was the apple glazed duck breast with a side of sautéed red cabbage with pomegranate seeds and cinnamon and potato dumplings we enjoyed a couple of years ago.
As soon as dinner concludes it’s time to get to the business of exchanging and opening presents. We gather around the warmly lit Christmas tree with steaming cups of mulled wine, eggnog or "kinderpunsch" with gentle sounds of carols from the radio filling the room with its merry spirit. It's been a close to perfect day and as the excitement of the day turns into sleepy weariness we say goodnight to our friends and bring Soeren into bed. Although it's late, past midnight already, I cannot help but sneak into the kitchen - "I want some of what you're getting!" Tom calls behind me. I smile. He knows me well! Carrying a wooden tray covered in a variety of cheese, crackers and a few slices of the left over duck, I come into the living room where Tom has opened another bottle of wine. We recollect the evening and after admitting it was the best Christmas dinner yet, it's time to turn out the lights and blow out the candles and head on to bed.
On the following two days we continue to indulge in lots of food and visit friends and other family members bringing baskets of wishes and edible surprises.