Christmas is coming.
*cue music* Hark the herald angels sing!
To commemorate the season, we’re harking back to a particularly memorable past Christmas or winter holiday. Since Christmas falls in the summer for us Australians, it’s fortunate that I do, as it happens, have a memorable winter Christmas to share…
Three years ago I spent Christmas in Germany — no longer dreaming of a white Christmas.
My sister and her family were living in Bonn. The rest of the family thought it the ideal excuse to experience a traditional German Christmas. So we did.
For us Australians, Christmas is all sun and barbecues and backyard cricket. So you can imagine a Christmas with snow and Christmas lights at 4pm and mulled Gluhwein was something of a novelty.
I wrote a series of posts on my otherblog back in December 2010 about our German Christmas. Here they are.
It is exactly one week until Christmas, which this year will be spent with my entire family in Bonn, Germany. The plan is to embrace some of the German traditions while we’re here. We are of course hoping for a ‘white Christmas’, which is not unthinkable — there is still much snow on the ground, and it snowed quite heavily for a while yesterday. Fingers crossed the world is still white in a week!
In true German fashion we set off today to choose our Christmas tree (der Weihnachtsbaum). The plantation we visited was filled with snow-laden Christmas trees of all shapes and sizes — from massive 4-5m monsters, down to tiny baby trees about 10cm high. The idea is to trek through the snow to find the exact tree that meets height, breadth, symmetry and aesthetic requirements, then have it cut down, netted and slung over the car. It then hangs around outside until next Friday, Christmas Eve, when it is brought inside and decorated.
It took us about 20 mins to investigate the various tree-options and make our selection, all the while our toes and fingers becoming numb. A snowball fight ensued once the choice was made and we awaited the man with the saw. By the time the tree was felled and roped onto the roof of the car, an hour had passed and we were all freezing and ready for a hot drink and lunch. O Tannenbaum, the pains to we which we go to choose thee!
Of all things at Christmas time, Germany is renowned for its Christmas markets. On our train journey from London, we met people travelling to the Cologne Christmas markets — some of the most acclaimed in the country — specifically to do their Christmas shopping. The markets can apparently be found in just about every town, and attract crowds (no matter how freezing the temperature) to sample the edible delicacies and handcrafts and, perhaps most importantly, Gluhwein (mulled wine).
The Bonn Christmas market, located mainly in the town square, is a lovely market with all the prerequisite foodstuffs and handcrafts like ornaments and Christmas decorations carved from timber, engraved glass objects, paper star lanterns (complete with light globes inside) for hanging in windows at Christmas, porcelain ornaments, candle holders etc. It flows into adjoining pedestrian walkways and neighbouring squares, luring the visitor onwards through the quaint city centre. It was in the Bonn market that we sampled the delicious dampfnudel, a traditional German steamed dumpling, smothered in vanilla custard sauce and stewed plums.
We visited two of the Cologne markets today. The first nestles in the shadow of the Dom, Cologne’s massive and impressive cathedral (see picture – not mine), and is perhaps slightly more diverse and higher quality than the Bonn market. Here, the kids rode the merry-go-round and the adults sampled gluhwein in ceramic mugs that we could keep. The weather was milder today at 1 degree C, and we all enjoyed perusing the many excellent stalls. (Alas, no dampfnudel to be found!)
We stumbled upon the second Cologne Christmas market, down a bit and around the corner, as we headed back to the station, the light fading and the lights twinkling in the dusk. We didn’t have nearly enough time at this market, which looked at a glance to be the best of all of them! It seemed to have a multitude of stalls with interesting wares and different foods, and the night atmosphere with all the lights (including hundreds of lit Christmas trees) was truly spectacular.
So the German Christmas markets have lived up to expectation (unlike the Bruges effort, which was poor by comparison). The lights and snow and gluhwein and market stalls all combine to create a wonderful Christmas atmosphere that is unlike anything we have in Australia.
Amid the great European freeze, we have had our White Christmas in Bonn, Germany. In accordance with German tradition we celebrated on Christmas Eve — decorating the tree with all the family, attending a candle-lit carol service, building two impressive snowmen, eating and drinking and being generally merry.
Then we celebrated again on Christmas Day (today) with presents and our usual turkey roast dinner (more eating, drinking, being merry) — and it felt entirely appropriate having a roast, since it was so chilly outside (circa -6 deg C). In fact, we found the back porch an entirely appropriate place to chill food that didn’t fit into the fridge…
The snow today was beautiful, light and fluffy powder. Much of it fell yesterday and overnight, covering grass and other surfaces that had begun to show through as earlier snowfall started to thaw. But after a couple of milder days, yesterday was bitter and windy and it snowed for most of the day, and then today was fine and even sunny for a spell in the afternoon. We went down to the Rhine for a short walk and I was sorely tempted to throw myself into the pristine powder to make snow angels.
The massive house-party (across two houses) and two-day celebration has been fantastic. With all the snow-disruptions to trains and planes, we’ve been incredibly lucky that everyone made it to Bonn in time (from various parts of Germany and Europe), with only a couple of hairy moments. After over a year in the planning, it’s all turned out brilliantly.
Have you ever experienced Christmas in a country outside your own? How did it differ? How was it the same?
I’ll post links to other #wanafriday contributions to this theme as they become available: