If you’ve been following our Expat Christmas series, you might wonder why my own host country of Germany hasn’t made an appearance. I’ve rambled and mused here and here on German Christmas quirks and traditions, so I thought you might want to hear from someone else for a change.
Today Ann from Travel Turtle shares what she’s learned to love and live without in the past four holiday seasons.
An Intentional Season in Germany
Being an expat in Germany during the holidays is a special experience. I’m lucky to live in a country that embraces the Christmas season. There are many traditions I can continue from my home, but there’s still a lot of trading the traditions I’m used to for the traditions of my host country. This December is my 4th in Germany, so I now know what to expect – a non-stop mix of celebration, celebration, celebration.
That sounds exhausting doesn’t it? Don’t worry. I’m very intentional in my approach to the holiday season. For the past 5 years I have been recording our December Days via inspiration from Ali Edward’s December Daily. I start off the season thinking about what is most important. For me, that’s family. Everything we do is meant to be simple and enhance our time together.Holiday festivities still start with American Thanksgiving. It coincides nicely with the opening of German Christmas Markets most years. We celebrate Thanksgiving twice. On Thursday, whether we are at home or visiting other expats, and then again on Saturday with our English-speaking Kids Club group. We’re fortunate to have a nice group of locals who start our season celebrating a very non-German holiday with us.
The next big day is St. Nicklaus Day. On December 5th our kids leave their boots outside their door before going to bed. They wake up the next morning to the boots filled with small toys and candy. This tradition exists in our family because we are in Germany. We would not have done it if we were in the US and I don’t know if it’s something that will continue when we leave Germany. For now it works.
December 6th in our area of the city is a fun day. We walk along the main shopping strip and St. Nicklaus hands out fresh baked goods and oranges to all of the children. The shops will usually have a small sale, and our grocery store will actually bag groceries for us! (This is the only time of the year I know this will happen – it is a real treat!) Then we head to our community center to enjoy a smaller handmade market, the warmth of the indoors, snacks and drinks, and the kids play with other kids.Weekends are devoted to visiting Christmas Markets within an hour or two from our home. In the week or two leading up to Christmas Day, we like to take a short vacation to another area of Germany. It’s a nice time to see new sites and visit new Christmas markets. I’ve come to really cherish these trips because it is all about being together.
The traditions we miss back home boil down to driving around looking at Christmas lights and photos of the kids sitting on Santa’s lap. Unfortunately (or fortunately, I don’t know, it does seem a little chaotic), photos of my kids on Santa’s lap don’t really exist. The one year we actually saw Santa, my son just sat next to him for a few minutes and there were no official photographers. Last year we happened to see a Lego Santa while we were in Berlin, and decided that was good enough.The big event: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are celebrated very similarly in our home here as they would be if we were in the US. That is not saying that we do things as the Germans do. We don’t. But, I wouldn’t mind incorporating some of the traditions a lot of my friend’s families hold on to. They put up the Christmas tree just before Christmas Eve and light the candles (real candles on the tree, not electric lights), and everyone sits around the tree to talk and sing. They’ll open up gifts on Christmas Eve, and I don’t really know what people do on Christmas Day.
For us, Christmas Eve is devoted to being together, eating a big meal, opening one gift (pajamas), and reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Christmas Day we open stockings and presents, have a delicious baked French toast breakfast, Skype with our families, and take nice, long walks outside together.
I think we’ve managed holding on to our traditions and allowing our local traditions into our holidays without overwhelming ourselves. I don’t feel the stress of Christmas, and for that I am very thankful.
Ann Belle is former travel agent. She is currently an American expat living in Germany with her husband and two kids. She blogs about traveling with kids and offers tips and tools to help children and families embrace travel at her blog, Travel Turtle. Ann is happy to connect with you via facebook or twitter.Photo credits for Expat Christmas graphic here and here.