With Thanksgiving already a memory and the holiday rush in full swing, I find myself scrambling to catch up. I wish I were one of those people who could embrace the season effortlessly, as many of my friends do. One glance at Facebook — showing people’s lavishly decorated trees and homes — and I feel like the Grinch.
Instead I tend to drag my feet and go kicking and screaming into the red and green fray. Of course, it is all the more of a challenge with Rob deployed and our nuclear family missing a crucial member. But even with him home, I can’t say I am as Christmas-y as I’d like to be. I did make the effort to pull out our holiday bins the other day, and even put up some wreaths. As I was fluffing the wreaths’ flattened pine needles, I suddenly had a flashback to Germany and how lovely Christmas was there. We were lucky to have spent two three-year tours in several German cities and were able to appreciate the way the holidays were celebrated, Deutsch-style. Everything seemed slightly muted and understated compared to the United States, like a photo washed in sepia, and perhaps that’s what appealed to me. There was a sense of time moving more slowly with less emphasis on the materialistic. Even the decorations were different — more old-fashioned — featuring lots of greenery, wood and simple red bows as opposed to the blazing electronic arrays we Americans favor. (Not that there’s not much to love about a Griswald-esque display of colorful lights, mind you.)
But the more subtle style we found in most of the German towns and cities we visited was beautiful in its simplicity and almost magical in places.
Stores, while busy, didn’t seem to hawk their wares as aggressively as they do here, and no one talked about Black Friday.
Then there is the food. German baked goods should carry an addiction warning — worth the extra 5 pounds and then some.
The Christmas markets were a favorite for me, and not merely because I fell in love with the gluhwein — a spicy mulled wine concoction that hit the spot on those cold nights.
Walking around with friends or family and leisurely browsing the stalls full of mostly homemade items was the best way to Christmas shop. And don’t even get me started on the wonderful chocolate “Kinder eggs.” Was a better stocking stuffer for a child ever invented?
Maybe it’s the German in me that is recognizing these traditions on some cellular level — my maiden name is, after all, Schwartz.
As a kid, my family used to open our gifts on Christmas Eve, as many Germans still do. And we always put our shoes by the front door on Dec. 5 in the hopes of a visit by Saint Nicklaus. I’ve been continuing that tradition with Ryan and Andrew, who are still excited about this humble ritual, despite being 13 and 8 now.
This year, the boys and I are flying to Riverside, Calif., to spend Christmas with Rob’s brother and his family, as well as his father and stepmother who will come from South Carolina.
I am grateful to be invited as the prospect of making Christmas wonderful for my kids alone here is not appealing. Plus the boys will get to spend rare time with their cousins. It’s a win-win all around.
I have never spent a Christmas in California, so this will be a novelty. I am also secretly hoping some of my brother and sister-in-law’s holiday spirit will rub off on me.
One of the best things about spending Christmas with these people is that they love Rob as much as I do and will likely keep me laughing and distracted for most of the 10 days we are there.
Going out of town for the holidays is not stress-free, of course.
The dog will need to be boarded, bags packed and there will be a long day of flying (and possibly delays/cancellations) both coming and going, not to mention a slew of gifts to buy once we arrive.
But I truly believe California is the best place for us to be this year.
As for Germany, I hope to go back with Rob and the boys at some point, though it doesn’t seem likely we will ever be living there again on the Army’s dime.
However, I treasure the memories we have of our time in Hanau, Mannheim and Weiden, especially during the holidays. When we are in California, I plan on making a vat of gluhwein for my in-laws, and sitting outside on a chilly night. We will channel a little piece of Germany together.