The number one day for being homesick for me is without a doubt Christmas. That’s the 24th, not the 25th of December. Especially if the husband is working hard to fly people to their loved ones but I always miss my family and participating in the family Christmas festivities. But this year husband had the day off (the perks of getting older… more seniority… better schedules – FINALLY)! Alas, I didn’t just do what I would usually do, that is have a German Christmas, but we wanted to make sure to include both German and American traditions as we’re creating our own family traditions for the three of us.
At home in Germany, my family always has an advent wreath and you light one more candle in it on every Sunday leading up to Christmas. The main greenery, uhum, that Christmas tree, funnily enough is put up just mere days before Christmas Eve. Heck, there’ve been plenty of years that we didn’t decorate it until the 24th! Promptly on January 6th though it would go to the curb. In my home village the volunteer fire department would collect all the Christmas trees and stack them up for the Easter bonfire. Fun times.
Conversely, here in the U.S. Christmas trees go up the day after Thanksgiving – the last Friday of November. Then I see them on the curb as early as December 26th. I totally love putting it up that early. I totally hate taking it down so soon. If I’m honest, decorating a tree is kind of a pain in my butt. Fun, but a pain. Getting all the ornament hangers untangled and stringing the light chain… Bleh. But, I love having a Christmas tree and after all that hard work of decorating it I want it up for as long as possible!! So it should come as no surprise that we are picking and choosing the best of both worlds. The tree goes up right after Thanksgiving and stays up until January 6th. I also want to make an advent wreath next year to introduce our baby boy to that tradition from back home.
Here are some cultural “gems” from our tree:
- a “German” Christmas pickle that my husband got me for our first Christmas (that’s actually not a true German tradition but I love the pickle)
- totally American NFL snowman cheering for husband’s favorite team
- a Berlin Brandenburger Tor s’more snowman ornament (RANDOM! Yeah I don’t know how someone came up with that but it’s pretty special especially after the Christmas market attack there this year), and
- American Santa riding in a NYC yellow cab.
The other huge difference between a German and an American Christmas is gift giving. Back home, der Weihnachtsmann or das Christkind (Santa or Christ Child) deliver a few gifts late afternoon / early evening on Christmas Eve. We’d usually go to church and when we got back gifts would be under the tree. Of course here in the U.S. Santa Claus comes during the night before Christmas Day once everyone has gone to bed so you open your gifts and empty your stockings in pajamas on the 25th. Aaaand that’s how unflattering Christmas photos make it to Facebook. Messy bed hair, no make-up but at least a big smile (if Santa didn’t disappoint you). I get it, Santa needs time to fly from Europe to North America but watching my family open gifts while we video chat when I have to wait another whole day… ehhhhhh……
So after crowd-sourcing in one of the Germans living in the US Facebook groups we’ve decided to blend our traditions to celebrate Christmas with baby Leo like so:
Christmas Eve we’ll open gifts that are from us. They’ve been under the Christmas tree for days if not weeks by then anyway so clearly they’re not from Santa. Christmas Day we’ll check to see what Santa has left in our stockings over night (hopefully not coal!) and Leo (and maybe us, to be determined) will also find a special gift from Santa in front of the fireplace.
Hopefully that will also mean the kid isn’t up at the crack of dawn to check if Santa was there because he’s already received some gifts the night before but one can only hope. 😀
What are some of your Christmas traditions and how have you blended your traditions with ones from your partner’s family or new home area?
Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!