Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Intercultural Christmas

How do an Austrian, a German and their culturally confused kids celebrate Christmas in the United States you might wonder?

There are some cultural differences, let me tell you!

Most Europeans do not believe in Santa Claus. We have the Christkind, a sprite-like child with blond curly hair and angel wings, who is bringing the presents. I remember writing a letter to Christkind every year, expressing my wishes for Christmas. I would put it on the window board in my room before I went to bed and my mom sneaked it out while I was sleeping. I never saw the Christkind and my parents even told me that Christkind would not come to bring my presents, if I would try to spot it. Which brings me to the next difference. Europeans celebrate Christmas on December 24, Christmas Eve. This is the day the Christmas tree is set up as well. In my family, we even had to stay in our rooms all afternoon while my parents, or mostly my mom, would set up and decorate the tree. We would then have to wait for Christkind to bring the presents and were only allowed to enter the living room when we heard a little bell (rang by my mother). This, followed by my mom shouting: “Das Christkind war da! The Christkind was here!” was the announcement of Bescherung - the opening of the gifts. Christmas Eve was always a very formal evening, my parents would dress up an so did my sister and I.  


Americans believe in Santa Claus, who lives at the North Pole, has a large number of magical elves and several flying reindeer who help him deliver the presents to the children. Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season in the U.S. and you will see Santa appear in every mall, find him in TV commercials, etc. To me he seems far less magical then Christkind, very commercialized. Visiting Santa in the mall, mostly accompanied by having your photo taken with him, is a tradition here. The tree is usually set up right after Thanksgiving and is visible to everyone in the family during the holiday season. Christmas is celebrated on December 25, Christmas morning. Families open the presents that Santa brought over night (he enters the houses through the chimney, some people leave milk and cookies for him as a snack.), and it is not unusual that they are all wearing their PJ’s. Families also hang up stockings on their fireplace for Santa to fill with some smaller presents.


Austrians and Germans also have Nikolaus/Nikolo, which is celebrated on December 6. Many children, especially in Germany, will put a boot outside the front of the door on the night of December 5. Nikolaus will fill the boots with gifts and sweets overnight, if the children have behaved well during the year. In my family it was always a burlap bag, which was placed in front of my room's door.  And then Austrians have this very special creature called Krampus. He comes to the children who did not behave so well. But I'll let the genious Christoph Waltz explain that one to you. 


So, how are we celebrating Christmas in this multi-cultural house? We are doing our own mix! We celebrated Nikolo (not Krampus, since you can't get any Krampus stuff here unfortunately). We put our tree up on December 7, very American but we really love this tradition. The kids helped decorate the tree and had a blast. That day we also visited Santa and had our picture taken with him. He asked the girls what they wanted for Christmas and Sophie even answered him. She totally believes that he was the real Santa and that he is the one bringing the gifts, so no chance for Christkind this year... We have stockings hanging on our fireplace. We will have a special cookie for Santa and leave it out for him with a glass of milk. We will celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, as we always have. We baked a mix of American and Austrian cookies.  We will Skype with the families in Europe and will miss them dearly, like every year. But we will cherish the fact that we will be reunited next year. 


MERRY CHRISTMAS to all of you, no matter where you are! And, I am going to take a break from blogging until the new year, so HAPPY 2015 to you as well! See you next year! xoxo

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