Don't worry, I had no idea before I came here either. But today I was pleasantly surprised when I woke up to a boot full of goodies outside my door!
St. Nikolaus was far better to me than he was to the kids. Chocolate-cinnamon covered almonds and Lindt chocolate with rum filling = LOVE. As well as my Milka snowman, of course. Who now exists only in this photo. I was hungry.
Skip down to next bolded section to avoid cultural lesson
I'm slowly catching on to how Christmas works here. St. Nikolaus, unlike our St. Nick, is not Santa Claus. He comes on December 6, his saint day, and fills boots with goodies, as well as being the one who fills up the advent calendar every night. He does not come down the chimney, he just sneaks in a door or window. He does dress in a Santa outfit, however. He also kindly visits kindergartens and fills up boots there as well! Busy guy! Traditional Nikolaus treats are chocolate, fruit, and nuts (though bad children may find a rod or switch in their boot!) As my host mom was telling me, there are families who get big ol' presents from Nikolaus on the 6th, but I think that would take away from Christmas itself, wouldn't it? Apparently the reason St. Nikolaus Tag exists as it does is because of the Protestant Reformation: Martin Luther sought to sever the connection between saints and gift-giving, because it glorified saints inappropriately, and therefore St. Nikolaus couldn't be the one bringing gifts on Christmas Day. The Catholic response was to just switch his celebration to the 6th instead!
On Christmas itself, the present-bringer varies based on location. In Northern Germany it's Weihnachtsmann (literally, Christmas Man), who is basically just Santa Claus. In Southern Germany, gifts are brought by the Christkindl: the Christ child. (In case you were wondering, it's the butchering of this German word that gives us the name Kris Kringle.) Germans scoff at separation of church and state. Seriously.
The primary Christmas celebration takes place not on the 25th but on the 24th: our Christmas Eve, the Germans' Heiliger Abend (Holy Evening). Presents are brought and put under the tree (in a locked room) at nightfall on the 24th (and bear in mind that this far north, that's like 4 PM by that time of year). All the presents are opened that night, and the 25th is a day for the Christmas feast and going to church.
End informative section
Okay, I'm done lecturing on German Christmas traditions now. I'm sort of sad my host family will be out of town for Christmas, because it would be really exciting to see all this first hand with little kids who still believe in Santa, but I'm sure Christmas will be amazing nonetheless. Nikolaustag was fun enough though. And the Advent calendar (a giant cloth hanging one on the wall, with little pouches for each day) is a kick--I put Kilian to bed the other night, and before we went up he insisted on puffing open the pouch for the next day, to make it easier for Nikolaus to get the treat in. As we headed up the stairs, he confided, "Laura, sometimes when I am already in bed I sneak out to the stairs to see if I can see Nikolaus sneaking in the window with treats!" Precious!
My kiddos are turning my hair grey, I think, but continue to be adorable and hilarious and a lot of fun. I swear, Cliona enjoys the trouble she gets into when she refuses to eat her dinner, but it's pathetically easy to get them to do what I want. For example:
Me: Cliona, I need you to eat five more forks.
Cliona: No! I want not that! I want not to eat!
Me: Okay, I guess we're going to your room to go to bed now!
Cliona: No! I eat! I eat!
As I said, pathetically easy.
The newest fight (well, the new version of an old fight) is about who gets to sit on my knee (not lap, that's American). I've settled with the rule of both or none (picking one leads to more screaming than my ears care for), so now they fight over who gets what leg. My favorite pair of jeans has holes in it (intentional ones; thanks, American Eagle, I really needed that breath of fresh air on my thigh when it's 25 degrees out), so they fight over who gets to sit on the leg with the bigger hole. Seriously?
Cliona has been very into her baby doll recently, and it's the most hilarious thing to sneakily listen to her play with it. Conversations usually revolve around her disciplining Baby, who I'm glad isn't real, as she frequently bites and hits Cliona. It is seriously the funniest thing.
We got our first real snow today! Didn't stick, as the temperature's hovering right around freezing and so the precipitation has a lot of trouble making up its mind whether it's snow or rain, but it was beautiful anyway. I'm really hoping we get a real snow before Christmas! California me would be incredibly excited.
I have my first choir concerts this weekend! We for some reason just started singing the Christmas music like three weeks ago, so it seems pretty shaky at this point, but I was assured things always come together at the concerts. It's fun being Christmasy!
I went this Sunday to a sing-along Messiah at the local Episcopal church, about 40 minutes from my house. It was a real piece of home, with basically all English speakers there, and it was really a lot of fun, despite being coldy and therefore probably sounding pretty bad. The same church hosts a carol singing evening a couple of weeks from now, so I'll more than likely go to that as well! It's just not Christmas without Messiah. The soloists were all pretty impressive (with the notable exception of the soprano singing the recits......ouch). There was also a raffle for gift baskets, and I was arm-twisted into buying a ticket for the "American basket," temptingly loaded to the brim with PopSecret, Oreos, marshmallow whip, and other goodies I miss a sad amount.
After the Messiah, I scurried home to help out my family with their glühwein party. Consisting of about 20 people and their cumulative 20 children, chili, tabouleh (made by yours truly), a lot of cookies and crackers, and a truly incredible amount of homemade glühwein, it was really a lot of fun. Though I was technically there "working," my family is super cool and my mug of glühwein was refilled every time it got slightly empty. And really, working consisted of making sure no kids fell down the stairs and feeding them pasta at about 6 PM. I finished off the Christmasy day by watching "The Santa Clause" online.
And that's about it! The rest of the week continues as normal; Anne and Michael are out overnight this weekend so I get to have the kids all night and the next morning as well (which I guess means I get to fill up the Advent calendar? YES!), then next week consists of a lot of kid's christmas plays/parties/shows. This time of year is way too much fun! I apologize for the major scattered-ness of this blog entry!
|Silly kids eating Nikolaus chocolate after kindergarten|