To say that Germans think differently than Americans, I would have to say is the understatement of the year. Or is it actually the other way around that Americans think differently than Germans? Whichever way it is, I should probably leave it as just the understatement of the week to allow myself the future freedom to again state the obvious. This season's musings are derived from such experiences from my second Christmas in Germany.
The holiday started off with the whole family gathered at the home of my parents in-laws in a small little village out in the countryside. We began "Heilig Abend" (Christmas Eve) singing Christmas carols at the Rehab center, dressed in our holiday best. It has been sometime since I last sang Christmas carols other than with the radio and just around the house a few weeks prior to the special day. Traditional coffee and cake time followed our singing tour as well as a trip to the local village church that boasts of architecture worthy of notice and mention. But despite all the yearly traditions, some can be altered even in Germany when dinner was served before gift opening. This of course was allowed because the kids had not yet arrived and the excitement of gift opening is a little easier for adults to bear. I imagine that most children in the States would love the idea of being able to open all the presents on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day, but nothing beats the excitement of a Christmas morning opening presents in your pajamas only to later swim out of the sea of ripped and torn wrapping paper.
My husbands family has somewhat altered the customary bratwurst and potato salad evening meal and replaced it with smoked trout and eel served with a cold potato and tuna salad, oven baked bread, and an assortment of cheeses and salamis to round the meal. Not exactly what I would consider to be the typical meal that makes it to the Christmas Eve dinner table in America, but nonetheless tasty. The Christmas tree was lit by flames dancing atop the carefully and strategically placed beeswax candles, again something that one would not see on the other side of the pond. Christmas trees in Germany would be more simply adorned with straw ornaments and apples or red bulbs, while the average Christmas tree in America would be somewhat over the top, colorful, blinking, and so bright it looks like candy you can eat kind of a tree.
Our Christmas morning started late with the standard German spread of food including cheese, salami and wurst, the ever essential butter, jellies, honey, and spreads, and the staple of every German meal....bread. One might argue that all those items are not so uncommon, but for me as a breakfast meal they are still strange and unfamiliar for the American palette. What else, of course, would follow brunch on a holiday afternoon, but family members lazily spread over the sofa reading, visiting, and nibbling on chocolates. The following days the evening feasts repeated their yearly routine with oven-roasted goose for the first Christmas day and wild deer for the second Christmas day, and of course the ever expected staple in the renowned German cuisine... potatoes and red kraut.
I suppose on the surface one could quite easily assume that there are no real differences to this common institution of eating and drinking, time spent with family and loved ones, love and laughter, lights, gifts, and music. At it's core, this holds some truth, but for the one on the surface who notices all those minor differences, those slight distinctions are the very things that makes the day what it is in mind and in heart.