For most, today is Christmas, so Merry Christmas. For Germans, this is the first Christmas, even though last night was the time of gift-giving. Tomorrow is the second Christmas, which no one understands. For Orthodox Christians, Christmas is not until January 6. It’s all very confusing.
As a treat, I want to give you an impression of my Christmas, past and present. This is a study in contrasts. 2013 vs, 1973. See if you can spot the difference and guess which is which...
In case you’re stumped, I had to provide my own Christmas decorations with a grease pencil and the windshield of a UH-1 helicopter. The hills in the distance lie to west of Qui Nhon, Vietnam. I was playing at real war...not a fake one, like Fox News and rightwing idiots imagine, resurrect, and promote each year. (Because not enough people are jumping on their bandwagon, race has been added to the tree decoration.**) Although not religious, Christmas was and always will be Christmas.
Gifts in Germany are brought by das Cristkind, (German Word of the Day Christmas Editon: the christ child) not Santa Claus. Niklaus (St. Nicolas) drops by on December 6th to leave small gifts, fruit, and cookies. I do not know and will not bother to research the origins of a small child bringing presents to German children on or around the old pagan feast day, but there must be some connection to the birth of some fictional character, which has evolved over generations to inspire delusional and gullible fools and to be exploited by charlatans for their own benefit.
Merry Christmas. (See, Sarah, I wrote that word again! Are you happy? No, probably not, because this brings you no financial benefit.)
Now that Niklaus is out of the way, the holiday season started officially today. We like to start early on Christmas (I use the word to please Sarah Pallin, whose happiness is very important to me), because the preceding days are more appealing than the days following, with leftovers, nothing under the trees, full waste bins, and nothing to look forward to (except in our case, because we usually fly to someplace warm...which is another reason to enjoy the pre-Christmas period).
We bought (my wife decided) a tree; and I fought with the strings of lights and boxes of decorations. As I sit here and write worthless words, I gaze at my work of festive art. I must admit that my wife chose a good tree: evenly grown, chunky in shape, and straight-backed. I did a good job with the decoration, but I do most years. Now, we can start piling the presents underneath as they are bought and wrapped. As always, there will be too many, which is only fitting to our food fortune in life’s lottery.
The first Christmas lights went on last night. I draped a new sting of colored lights around a potted fir tree on the terrace. We will have a few weeks of the seasonal spectacle, before a butchered tree is erected in the living room. Next steps is lights on the house, of which a I have bare minimum. My family would like more, as well are illuminated figures, but I have managed to draw the line. Since none are willing to do the work, I get to decide what gets hung.
(If grocery stores can start selling Christmas products in September, I can push the deco date back to before Thanksgiving.)
On a lighter note...
In the grand scheme of things, what I am about to write does not rank as a significant event. Nevertheless, yesterday was a sad day for us. Our Christmas tree died...or rather dried out. We have been watching it shrivel for days, so were not surprised. In the past, a tree has lasted four weeks, but this one shriveled after two. We bought the tree early, in hope of it lasting until Christmas, because we plan to leave the country. In the past, we have bought the tree later and kept it until January. This one let us down.
The decision was easy: out with the old and in with a new one. The Christmas Tree is dead, long live the Christmas Tree (at least for two weeks!) Of course, that meant submitting myself a second time to one of my least favorite chores. That said, we now have a new, slightly smaller, unassailable-for-a-kid tree. This tree will suffer no psychological stress, because its term of service is limited. After that, we will forget about it and become interested only in palm trees...
Usually, we have the largest Christmas tree that will fit in our living room. The ceiling is about 9 feet high, which provides an idea of past trees’ sizes. Not this year.
Because of expected frequent visits of a drool monster, who insists on touching, feeling, pulling, and tasting anything on which he can latch his grubby (because he has crawled around on our floors) hands, we are forced to place the tree out of reach. We prefer this to a fenced-in tree. Of course, this is cheaper (which is an argument my wife has refused to honor in any past discussion about tree size) and easier to decorate. Knowing that littles one like to pull themselves up on anything and everything, I have used building clamps to firmly fasten the sheet used to replicate “snow” under the tree.
Despite my best efforts, I expect the kid to win...
* Stealth German Word of the Day: Tannenbaum is a fir tree or cone-bearing evergreen tree. In German, this word does not mean Christmas tree: the word is Weihnachtsbaum.
Anyone knowing the famous Christmas song, who understands German, will have noticed the foolishness of the lyric that goes "...how green are your leaves..." Whoever wrote this song must not have ever seen a Tannenbaum or studied botany.
Some people stockpile food, water, batteries, etc. fearing a future disaster.
This provides some comfort, even if preparation could be futile.
My wife stocks up on Christmas tree lights. Many people have defective strings of lights from previous years in their cellars; we have boxes of new ones. Her greatest fear is to be decorating the tree--a major event each year--and have a string of lights not work. Or not have enough lights to make the tree bright enough to be spotted from outer space.
She does not accept the logic of living in the 21st century, when stores are open at all hours. Buying a new chain of lights would be easy and quick. Unfortunately, even a delay of a few hours would mean mental anguish. She can sleep soundly throughout the year only knowing that a ready supply, with plenty of back-up, is safely stored in the cellar. She is not interested in learning that I use the same lights each year, so she buys more year after year. When I tell her that we have enough to last a lifetime, her logic is that--unlike food--lights do not perish.
Instead of decking the halls with boughs of holly, I can deck them with boxes of light chords...
_ We bought a Christmas tree today.
Actually, we bought two. One had been chopped (okay, with a saw) down in the forest (okay, at a tree farm)...I’m trying to evoke visions of romantic Christmas chores. The second tree is in a pot and has roots. It will be placed on the terrace, outside the dining room doors, and be lit for evening enjoyment. This saves me stringing lights on trees in the garden. It replaces its predecessor, which died during the dry summer and can, hopefully, be used for several years.
Wonder of wonder: buying the tree was easy. My wife wanted a large tree, and I found no reason to argue (I have learned to pick my battles.) We spotted one the moment we drove onto the nursery lot and, although considering two others for from sake, we decided to take it. Never has a Christmas tree been chosen so quickly and without discussion. Despite ease in finding a tree, I must still wrestle with lights and decorations...
* NB. Your German Word of the Day is der Tannenbaum (trees are masculine, as one might expect). The translation is fir tree (Tannen =fir; Baum=tree, simple for a change). Ein Tannenbaum...becomes ein Weihnactsbaum (Christmas tree)...when it is decorated.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.