As an American expat in Germany, Christmas is usually my favorite time of year. Cue 2020 with its social distancing and myriad of other health precautions and this year we have a German Christmas season that is pretty unrecognizable.
To get us all in the spirit though, I’ll describe what one would normally expect this time of year.
Christmas time begins with St. Nick (Nikolaus) on December 6. Kids leave their boots outside in front of the house before bedtime and legend says Nikolaus visits, leaving gifts inside… unless the kids haven’t been well-behaved, then there is coal or a few sticks “he” left mixed with the presents for our kids as a warning.
Homemade Weihnachts Plätzchen (Christmas cookies) are traded and distributed among family, friends and neighbors so that by the end of year everyone is totally sick of them.
Beginning the first weekend of advent, Christmas markets open up in every town. Each one is a little bit different but there is always Glühwein (hot mulled wine) and Grilled Bratwurst on a bun with mustard.
But there’s more—ornaments and Christmas decorations that range from mass-produced trinkets to hand-made heirlooms. Hot spiced rum, eggnog, a carousel, a visit from angels, lights, live music and general merry making. In our city the Christmas market is open everyday of advent beginning at noon. It’s a gathering spot, a chance to celebrate the year.
The warmth, the community, the lights, colors and tastes of Christmas keep the Christmas spirit growing all month.
In a normal year that’s how it should all develop. This year is obviously different. Christmas markets are cancelled and meetings with family are severely limited. In Bavaria drinking alcohol outdoors—whether at a beer garden or a Christmas market—is probably the defining experience of the culture—also cancelled due to COVID. Church services are limited and singing indoors is practically outlawed.
We delivered thanksgiving dinner and we’re leaving Christmas cookies on doorsteps instead of eating together in person. We’re saying “Prost” and “Frohe Weihnachten” across the street or over the fence but it’s bringing our creative hearts to the surface.
And like St. Martins day this year when people put lights and lanterns in their windows to make up for the darkness in the quiet city centers, we have been making our own merry. The light of the season isn’t concentrated at the Christmas markets or in churches this year, instead it’s spread out —at home with each of us.
The real purpose of this post is to encourage you to throw your own personal Christmas market at home. Here’s what you need:
A yard—-No yard? No problem. Christmas markets are usually crowded so it’s a lot of standing in place. A garden, balcony, terrace, patio or drive way will do. If you have no outside space whatsoever I encourage you to hang out your window and pretend to be outside.
String lights—Hang them up and stand near them if you’ve got them.
Hot mulled wine (Glühwein) is traditional but hot chocolate, hot apple cider or tea will also suffice. Hot mulled wine is simple to make, just google. Whatever you do, it’s important to use an actual mug not a travel coffee thermos thing.
Grilled bratwurst on a bun with mustard—No grill? Cook the bratwurst in a pan on the stove -works just as well. Tradition says you should stand around outdoors warming one hand with Glühwein and the other with the bratwurst. Sweet tooth? Chocolate is also a perfect match for Glühwein.
We have been doing this at least once a week. Some evenings I set the girls up with something to watch and stand outside with my hot mug of Glühwein before I get dinner ready. Why not!?
We are all in this weird year together regardless of the distance between us. I know because I’m an expat, because I’ve moved a lot, and I’ve never gotten to see my friends or family nearly enough. But even in the face of such fear and unknowing this year—I still feel them with me all the time.
So put on your favorite hat and scarf and get out there. You don’t need other people to make this fun. Even totally alone— standing out in the cold with hot wine feels festive. But if it does feel lonely—-Phone a friend. (I FaceTimed during my at-home Christmas market on Friday. ) And share your home Christmas traditions as much as you can by email or social media. That way we can be all together—apart.
Please share photos and stories of your own home celebrations with me by email or social media.