20 December 2016

There is ground beneath my feet again, knees still shaking though. I can look at the windows  from my horizontal position and the world is no longer turning. I am still struggling to get out from under the big wave that's been knocking me about for the last three weeks, my physical activity level is a laughable slow-motion at best. Actually,  I prefer to not move at all. Apart from getting all shaky and shivery when I do get up, there are new and interesting whooshing noises in my ears when I am vertical and R has started a spreadsheet tracking my miserably low bp  (I secretly believe that the measuring gadget he brought home from school is not working). 
In other words, I feel like shit. 
At least, R is as good as new and we have devised a cunning plan based on my various past emergency health scenarios and potential what ifs. Basically, we are ready for whatever will hit the fan but won't be disappointed if I just get better without much fuss.

Meanwhile, xmas. 
(This is mainly for Colette)
Even without being able to provide substantial proof I feel certain that in my neighbourhood - and in most German households - as of today, there isn't a single tree standing. There well could be one, wrapped in mesh, hiding in the basement, on the balcony or behind the garage. But indoors four days before xmas? No way. There are lots and lots of boring and/or hideously decorated trees in public spaces, schools and shop windows of course. They don't count, they are only for show, not the real thing. Right now, the good Germans at home will light the four candles on their advent wreaths and nibble Dominosteine, Spritzgebäck, Vanillekipferl and Springerle. More traditional households may also provide dried figs and dates. And juicy clementines of course.

The real xmas tree is brought in on xmas eve and absolutely not a day earlier. I can also vouch for the fact that in households with small children, the tree will come inside under cover of darkness and will be decorated in secret, possibly by angels, elves or any other of the Christkind's helpers. Once the children have reached the age when they have figured out the whole shebang they may help decorating - to kill time on xmas eve. Public viewing will commence on xmas eve when it gets dark or when the family returns from their annual church visit (which could well be the once annual visit for many).

Again, despite the absence of actual statistics, I contend as follows:

95% of trees will be real trees
75% will have real candles, mostly beeswax
100% will be decorated, inter alia, with these little chocolate sweets
(The things about these chocolates is that you can quietly pull out one of them and eat it and nobody notices until all of them are reduced to two or are gone all together.)

On xmas eve, shops start to close from noon onward. By late afternoon, there is a hush and by the time it gets dark, the first trees in their full shiny candles glory can be seen through the windows. By now, everybody is dressed up and it's time for the gifts. (Yes, on xmas eve.) We call this Bescherung (giving of gifts) and there are as many different rituals as there are families.
(I wrote about my childhood xmas here.)

Same with the food served on xmas eve. Potatoe salad with wieners is very popular. My mother went for the more elaborate, little gratins in real oyster shells, smoked fish and Melba toast.

The real food comes out over the next two days. There is no traditional German xmas dinner as in turkey and ham. Game is popular, carp is traditional for some, roast goose, anything fancy with large whole fish. We mostly had roast saddle of venison, cranberry sauce, dumplings, red cabbage. Tons of different desserts.
And since for every child there is a Bunter Teller under the tree, the first tummy aches start on day two, latest.

The tree stays there until early January. There are fixed days for tree collection and tough luck if you miss the date.

The last xmas tree in this house was maybe in 2005. I vaguely remember S coming home from university and throwing a temper tantrum because we hadn't prepared anything and in fact had no intention to. So in the end, she went out with R and got the whole show on the road. The cats messed with the baubles as usual. But no fear, we used to have lovely trees, we were proper xmas champions. More about that maybe later.

This is one of my mother's trees, ca. 1966. White xmas and all.


  1. Isn't it funny how different countries have different traditions? And yet, we certainly do. I remember my friend Kathleen always making the Christmas Eve dinner of seven fishes in the Italian way. I have no idea- she wasn't Italian and yet, she did it. When my friend Anna from Norway was with us for Christmas, she wanted roast pork for dinner. Their tradition. As to when to open presents- well, for my family it was ALWAYS Christmas morning, no exceptions unless I'd made nightgowns or pajamas for the children. Those they could open on Christmas Eve so they could sleep in them.
    I am so glad that the earth is level under your feet again. May it remain so now. And good to hear that your husband is okay again. I wish you happy holidays, Sabine, in whatever way you and your man celebrate.

  2. Oh thank you!!!! You have no idea how much I enjoyed this post. Partly because I'm always interested in how others do things, but also because my mother's parents were both first generation Germans (3 of her grandparents were born in the Saarland, the other was French from Lorraine) and this explains a lot about our holiday traditions. We even used to have potato salad on Christmas Eve. No one else I knew had potato salad then. It is thrilling to see how much stayed with the family even after so many generations. Did your family put out shoes for St. Nicolas to fill on the evening of Dec. 5th?

    1. Boots, never just shoes and the bigger the better.

  3. And my mother made Vanillekipferl! But we called them Angel Fingers.

  4. Wow, they hold the line on the trees till Christmas Eve? German discipline! :-)

    May the earth stay still and your strength grow! xoxo

  5. Glad your world has stopped spinning or is, at least, spinning more sedately! I grew up in Ireland but I'm beginning to think I must have some German blood because I'm always in a mad dash with the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve or, in very organized years, the day before that. And always real. No made-in-China-polluting-the-universe artificial trees here. And they always stay up until January 7th. (little Christnmas in Ireland.) We've seen the real candles on our German friends' trees and they were lovely. Christmas is a good time to be in Germany --- the spiced wine, the marzipan, the snow, the traditions, the baking....sigh.

  6. Very glad to hear that R is better. What a jewel he is! Glad also, to hear you are not suffering the nausea any more. We always celebrated on Christmas Eve with a smorgasboard and a variety of desserts. I come from a long line of Danes and Germans.

    I wish you and yours the best of Christmases, Sabine, and the joy of feeling better for the New Year.
    Fröhliche Weihnachten!

  7. So glad to know that the earth is feeling steady beneath your feet again, and that R is well. Loved reading your Christmas story.

  8. What I want to write is exactly what robin wrote. Sending love to you and R.

    Was startled by the angel on the top of your family's 1966 Christmas tree because it looks so much like the angel that was at the top of my family's tree in 1966. The same curve of the dress. The same size. (I will post a photo of it on my blog when I have some more time). My family's angel had a shiny Christmas tree-green dress with a silvery lacy-looking apron. I'm not sure what it was made of. Not cloth. Not wood. Not metal. Maybe plastic. I don't know. She had a plain silver globe ornament for a head, and a halo above her head. The fact that she didn't have a face always vaguely bothered me. When my parents replaced her (maybe in the 1970s), my mother sent her to me. I haven't had a Christmas tree for almost as long as I can remember as an adult, although I used to decorate live house plants -- a jade tree, a Norfolk pine. Last year (or was it the year before?) I brought out my box of ornaments. I hadn't opened the box since my mother died in early December of 1993. I ended up putting some of them (including a few angels) up in my bedroom year round. The faceless head of the green angel fell off at that time. Something prompted me to attach a sturdy-backed image of the Mona Lisa to the ornament. The Mona Lisa image matches the dress and wings in size and cheers me immensely. It looks as if the angel was meant to be Mona Lisa all along. Ohhh ... and my mother made Springerle every year. She even made Springerle ornaments tied with red ribbon to put on the tree. I believe there is still one in that box of ornaments.

  9. We just keep making it up as we go along. This year, very early, to cheer us. Will keep it up until 6 Jan.

    Love the idea of the tree as a Christmas surprize for the children, magical.