I’m originally from the UK, and I’ve spent the last 19 Christmases in England - having a typical English experience, now I’m in Germany for this year and it’s completely different!
What is a typical English Christmas?
Christmas in England starts in mid-October, or at least it does in the shops. You can see Christmas decorations on sale, ‘present idea’ shelves with selections of things you might like to buy your mother, your sister, and in fact anyone at all! In early to mid-November, depending on the shop, they will usually start to play Christmas music. This includes carols and also more modern hits such as Slade, Paul McCartney and Mariah Carey. By now towns will usually have put up decorative lights in the streets ready for the official ‘turn on’.
In the last week of November or the beginning of December Christmas will officially begin. People will start to put up Christmas trees in their homes, buying and wrapping presents to give to each other, exchanging Christmas cards and if people are lucky, they might even get snow!
On Christmas Eve children are advised to be good and go to bed early so Santa will come to deliver their presents. On Christmas morning, I would always wake up very early and run downstairs to see how many presents there were, and my father would help me make breakfast in bed for mother. Slightly later (usually 9am or so) we would sit together and open presents. In my family we also make a list of who has given whom what gift so that “thank you” notes can be sent later.
Christmas lunch is traditionally turkey or goose with ‘pigs in blankets’ (small cocktail sausages wrapped in bacon), stuffing, chestnuts and sprouts, roast potatoes and hot gravy. For pudding there is Christmas pudding, which is a dark pudding containing raisins, sultanas, almonds and many other ingredients. Traditionally it is made 2 to 3 months before Christmas and then ‘fed’ brandy or rum on a regular basis to enhance the flavour. The pudding is then cooked and served with brandy butter, egg custard or cream (and sometimes all three!). While the pudding is being cooked the alcohol is burned off so only the flavour remains.
After the Christmas lunch, which normally takes place slightly later in the day than a normal lunch at 2 or 3 pm, families often sit around playing games or watching films. When I was very young everyone used to come to my house for lunch and after we would all play Monopoly or Scrabble in the afternoon. Now everyone is older so we eat lunch at our own houses and my parents and I visit the other relatives in the afternoon, we sit around chatting, watch the Christmas special from the makers of ‘Wallace & Gromit’ and discuss plans for the next year.
What is a traditional German Christmas?
In Germany Christmas begins on 6th December with St. Nicholas Day when children hang a shoe outside. If they have been good St Nicholas fills it with sweets, if they have been bad it is filled with coal or twigs.
Christmas markets are opened in later November and they contain little log huts where vendors sell their wares - these range from homemade household items to things you would find commercially produced in shops. In the centre of the Christmas Market there is usually a stall that plays or a place for a choir or band to play Christmas music. At every Christmas market you can buy mulled wine, which is a warmed wine, there is also a warm fruit punch for children.
On Christmas Eve either the Christ Child, who is like an angel or the Christmas Man, who is like Father Christmas or Santa, visits every house and delivers presents. In the evening, after mass at 4pm, the families return home and read the Christmas story, eat snacks such as marzipan and nuts and open their presents. On Christmas Eve their is traditionally a feast, but no meat is eaten for religious reasons.
On Christmas Day families eat a suckling pig or other roasted meat, along with many other things such as macaroni salad and gingerbread. Gingerbread is very popular and Germany is famous for the gingerbread houses it produces.
Germany is actually the home of many Christmas traditions that have come to other parts of the world over the years. The most famous ones include the Christmas tree, and the carols ‘Silent Night’ and ‘O Christmas Tree’.
Having never experienced a German Christmas I’m very excited this year and can’t wait to find even more differences - both seem wonderful to me!