Thursday, December 16, 2010

Its Christmas right!

My blogger friends have started writing a wrap up blog for the year already, I, who is at this moment residing at pinnacle of timelessness just felt the jolt and on looking at the calender got confirmed that yes, few more days and 2010 will become a year in history. Thanks to the old science of calender making, that at least a year although gone, does not give us much time to sulk. We immediately forget the old and welcome the new one.
We make resolutions, we make promises and then we party on the new year eve (most of us watch TV actually). But we all get a boost to start afresh, like as a child I use to write very neatly on first few pages in a new notebook, then I don't know when the writings would automatically get casual, little rusty and then I would again start waiting for the old notebook to finish so that I can get a new one to start afresh. Year ending gives me the same feeling.

Talking about this time of the year, I remember that in Germany, they wish for new year by saying "Gute Rutsch" (Meaning have a good slide from old to the new year) and they don't say New year, they say "Jahreswechsel" i.e changing of years. I found it quite interesting as we in India follow the norms and lingos of English new year only.
But before reaching new year there will be Christmas right, we in India also call it Bada din (a long day), actually it was only in Germany I got to know that from Christmas day, the days start getting bigger and it means a lot there where in winter, days are really short and nights are very long and dark. For 'J' this has been her main festival till now, as Durga puja for her was a distant festivity, one day affair or some pictures from internet. She used to get impressed by ten hands, trishul (trident) and four children of Goddess Durga, the green colored Asura (Monster she says), their dresses and jewels. But Nikolaus (German for Santa Claus) is her own. When she was around 3-4, we used to tell her that when Goddess Durga will go up and it will be time for Nikolaus to come down, they will meet on the way and they will discuss about the naughty kids and decide (on gifts!).

In Germany (also in many other countries in Europe) Nikolaus traditionally comes on 6th of December, in the kindergartens where they hang socks for getting gifts, and at home he comes on the eve of 5th December. Children has to keep clean boots outside their houses where they can get Mandarins, Oranges, chocolates if they are lucky. He can not only bring gifts and sweets but can also bring burnt coal and birch twigs if the kid was not that good for the whole year. Also on one year 'J' made a list of presents she wanted by drawing them as she did not how to write then and her daddy went to the Nikolaus in the Weinachten Markt (special Christmas Markets) to give the list, so that he could deliver them by Christmas. After coming back 'J's papa told 'J' that Papa was not very brave and that he was actually shivering on seeing Nikolaus! 'J' was giggling on seeing the shivering of her daddy. In Scotland, post offices keep special boxes; 'letters to Santa' is written on it and children are encouraged to put their letters for Santa who lives in Lapland. In Scotland we saw that boots are kept out along with a glass of whiskey and a piece of minced pie for the old fellow to take some rest, have something to eat and drink before he starts for the next house.

Another thing 'J' eagerly waited for, was Advents calender. In Germany the affair of Christmas starts with arrival of the advent calendar. Advent starts on the first Sunday after November 26th. Advent calendars with their bright Christmas pictures hang alongside childrens beds. There are small numbers in the calender. One, two, three, and so on up to 24. Wherever the numbers are, there are small paper windows. Number 24 has the biggest window as expected. When you open these windows you find a little picture on transparent paper, and a small chocolate, doll or a book can come out. The children love to open one window each day, get a small gift and they can count how many days are left for Christmas Eve. Although we being new in this custom she always got ready made calenders, containing milk chocolates, but I have enjoyed how my colleagues used to discuss about making an advent calenders on their own for their niece, nephews of god children with hand picked gifts, small but delicate. Advent calender is a very special tradition in Germany or in whole of Europe for that matter.

Apart from the Advent calendar, there is one other thing called Adventkranz (wreath), special in Germany. It is is made from bound fir leaves and twigs to which four candles are attached. It can also have pine cones, ribbons and other decorations. Again, I used to buy this after understanding the ritual but normally families will sit together and make it, a notion of togetherness, like we put Rangolis on Diwali. Four candles will be lit on each of the Advent Sundays one by one. Families will sit together in the evenings, have tea and some home baked cookies and chatter or plan about Weinachten (or Christmas). In large houses, shops, and in churches, these Advent wreaths are very big and sometimes hang from the ceiling, along with four fat red or yellow candles. Don't ask me the story behind it as I could not get it from Germans or from any book. I liked this idea a lot. What a gala way to wait for an annual festival? Also decorations in the market place and in the houses keep going. Santas climbing into windows is a common scene in this time of the year. In the freezing month of December when I used to travel by train to and from my work, the decorated windows of the houses I passed by my trains used to give a splendid feeling of warmth amidst of white snow all around. Snow shaped paper cuttings are something we enjoyed a lot making them and then making cards, glass painitng at school Christmas fate and then going to watch 'J' for Christmas function in her kindergarten/ school became almost a ritual for us.

Weinachten Markt (Christmas Market) is one another highlight, that is so gemuetlich (cosy) and we fully enjoyed this small fair with wooden stalls kept almost unchanged in format for long long time with Karusels for kids and adults, with sweet popcorn, sugar candys, lebkuchen (ginger bread man) and Gluhwein (warm wine, made specially during this time of the year with addition of sugar, oranges, cloves and I don't know so many other things) and Schwenker (Very special grilled meat, available only in the south west part of Germany) it used to be a perfect match for the cold, long dark December nights. Actually in Scotland also we found a Weinachts Markt in Edinburgh, only everyone were speaking in English (with very strong Scottish accent though).

As they say that you get embedded in a culture foreign to you more easily if you are accompanied by a kid (with you or in you). After birth of 'J' and specially when she started going to kindergarten, we learned a lot about traditions and rituals of Germany through her friend's parents, through her kindergarten teacher and through the year long festivities in her kindergarten. We started buying a real Weinachts Baum (Christmas tree) as this is a big thing for kids to go to the Christmas tree markets and select their own tree, then bringing that home and decorate it. This happens on 23rd of December in Germany and then you can keep the tree as long as its needles are not making a mess on the floor. We bought a small star for the top, some small balls (Golden and red) and ribbons and a tiny Nikolaus, who used go up and down of the Christmas tree for 'J's sake. In Scotland on the other hand real Christmas trees are a rare watch, mostly trees are artificial, but 'J' was equally happy to decorate it when she found one in the shed of our rented apartment, on our first Christmas there, along with all the decorations, (might have been left by the previous tenants; thanks to them!). "Decorating the Christmas tree and then waiting for the gifts to appear under it is the best part of this festival", 'J' says.

On Heiliger Abends (Christmas eves) i.e., 24th December, I must admit, we missed going to any church, always felt little outsider for this and we never prepared turkey dinner we always cooked our age old chicken curry and Pilau rice with some other condiments, well no regrets, as that went fine with us, some times only three of us and sometimes accompanied with friends. In Scotland we came to know about the crackers with small jokes and a paper crown inside and they were put on the dining table as part of Christmas decoration and fun, 'J' loved it and we also tasted very rich and famous British Christmas pud (pudding) for the first time there.

While eating that gala dinner we talked about picnics we used to had as kids under the warm winter sun of India with the candles and the Christmas tree glowing at our back. 'J' unaware of our previous lives used to finish her meal as fast as possible and go to sleep so that in the middle of the night Nikolaus could come to give her presents, those ones which she made a list of and she could open them on 25th morning, this I think is again not exactly German ritual, and is our own version of Nikolaus visiting homes. In Germany Nikolaus visit houses when every one goes to the churches for evening mass. In Scotland gifts are there on 25th morning under the Christmas tree.

This time, we are in India, it is little cold, so a Christmas feeling is rising in mind with that, the supermarkets are decorated with lights. Inside they have made small corners with cotton wool (resembling snow) where reindeer, sledge and Santa clause are standing, 'J' on the chocolate isle was looking for an advent calender, on the roads mask of Santa Claus is available for sale, small plastic Christmas trees are also visible, the cake and pastry shops are selling cakes with Christmas tree decorations. TV and FM radio are talking a lot about winter and Christmas. While chatting with our friends in Europe, over skype we are getting the feel of snow, lights and warmth from there. My cousin has invited us for a picnic this weekend, so finally 'J' will know about the picnic under the basking winter sun in India. For Christmas days we have plans too, find them out yourself in the next blogs.

'J' has convinced us to go and hunt for a Christmas tree and that we should put that in the middle of our living room, then she says it will be her Christmas.

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