Germany, up until Christmas:
Since I am actually updating this more than a month later, I will simply reflect on some of the stuff that happened in the days surrounding Christmas. So much has happened that it seems like nearly a year has passed since I left Vancouver on December 7th...
As you can see from the picture elsewhere on this site, I infiltrated the very bowels of the pharmacist subculture, even going so far as to join their public rally against legislation that threatens to wipe out one third af existing phrmacies in Germany. Nice folks, really.
The inventor of the printing press surely deserves a museum named after him! In fact, the printing press, whose principles remained little changed in over 500 years since the early 1500's, was named the most important invention... of the millenium? It could be the most important ever really if you think about it! I've forgotten the details, but imagine for a moment what it would be like if books were still being reproduced one painstaking volume at a time. How many books might we each have read by now under these conditions? How far behind would we be in the areas of medicine, science, or philosophy? Some to think of it, I doubt comic books, cartoons, or action figures would have yet existed! Nightmarish, huh?
The car was parked on Christmas night along some dark street in a larger outlying town. We walked for several minutes until reaching a door accessed from the side of a non-descript alleyway. We went in and down a flight of stairs into a party of noise and stange music. Lights winked on and off down the hallway wherefrom a number of archways lead to various chambers, each stuffed with people who moved like bees in all directions. Naturally, I understood nothing as everyone spoke German in varying tones - some huge men next to me looked and sounded like stereotype villains in a Van Damme flick; harsh voices, low and aggressive, housed in frames of two-legged steer. But mostly, it looked like any club back home. The music was canned at the moment: a brilliant techno blend of ambient drums and old 8-bit Nintendo game themes! We pushed our way through the catacomb to the chamber with the stage where musicians were almost ready to plug in. The first note was rough and loud. Reverb bouced off the walls and the crowd of 100 fans, dressed in demin with Confederate flag belt buckles, responded with a yell that diminished only between songs. Each little ditty ends abruptly, as punk songs tend to, and the lead singer, supported by the mic stand looks out past the two spot lights. Someone yells (in German), "Why don't you learn how to play? You suck!" To which the lead man responded, "Diene Muter." Apparently everyone knows each other. It took a moment to understand what they meant by 'moshe, moshe, moshe!', but when all insanity broke loose and bodies flew agianst one another, it dawned on me. It was a good time and in spite of being way out of my element, I had a good time.
There are many differnces between Christmas traditions in Europe vs. North America. Here are a few (at the same time I enjoyed Europe very much while missing home):
While we celebrate Christmas Eve on the 24th and open presents on the morning of the 25th, they have all festivities on the 24th and refer to it as Christmas.
They have no stockings - not over the fireplace or anywhere, but they do still put real candles on their trees, which is pretty cool.
No turkey over there. I was told to expect duck, but aparently neither is really common. Still, the brussel sprouts were present and delightful!
Christmas carols were sung before the tree and a tale was told about Christmas that was certainly devoid of any commercialism or sponsor; it was the real deal: a holiday from the heart complete with hugs given with best wishes for the year to come. By the same token, my Christmases have also been filled with the spirit of giving and joy - I think these days we just have more red ribbon to cut through to see it for what it is. Who puts all that ribbon up anyway, and why as early as October? Whoever they are, they are franchising into Europe now! Yes, even there in the old country, the money-people will work their own brand of magic.
Our Santa Clause, thanks mostly to the Coca-Cola Company, is a jolly fat guy dressed in red who slips down the chimney and leaves presents and/or stocking stuffers for good boys and girls. He may eat some cookies and milk before somehow getting up the chimney and flying off on his sleigh pulled by magic reindeer. On other nights leading up to his one big run, he may be spotted in a foam castle at the mall or in front of certain beverage stores. Hmm.
Their man hearkens back to a bygone age, let me tell you. From what I gather, Saint Nick over there retains a more Catholic flair, opting for a slightly less friendly presentation of omniscience. While our Santa has a list, which is pretty sketchy as far as his sources go, their Saint appears with a Bible in hand! How's that for putting the fear of God into would-be gift getters? Yeah! He knocks on the door too, which has sent many a young lad fearfully scurrying behind the sofa from what I hear. So the kids answer, and standing in all his majesty is the Great One, the Bringer of Toys, the Ever-Generous Saint Nikolas! Dressed like a bishop with brown robes and one of those high, Roman-arched hats with a point at the top, he consults His book and recounts the year's deeds to the little ones, who in spite of this intimidating scene, will do as we young ones have always done here: deny any of the bad stuff or at least tell him we'll try harder next year.
And so in the end, at the bottom line as it were, the celebrations here and there have their differences, but share many more things in common. Besides coming from the same origins, both traditions also remain true to the intention of the holiday: for friends and family, it is a time to take pause and appreciate, more than any other time of the year, that we love and care for one another, a feeling we hold also during the other 364 days.