Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hopping on common ground

I am in a constant state of contrast and comparison living here in Germany. When I speak to the Germans, I often start sentences with,“In the States we.......”.
I guess it’s normal to do this. One must try to find a common ground to communicate.
Here in lies the rub.
The fact that I can barely speak the language doesn’t make it any easier.
During Christmas my comparing and contrasting skills are in full swing.
In the States, we open our presents on Christmas morning.
Santa Claus arrives while you are sleeping and brings presents to all the good little girls and boys. It is said that if you are naughty, Santa will leave you a lump of coal. I really believe that this a myth, because most American kids are spoiled and get their presents regardless.
If you are very good, you can talk Mom and Dad into opening one present on X-mas Eve.
Since I had unwrapped and re wrapped all my presents weeks before X-Mas morning, this only meant I had to get a head start on my surprise face.
In Germany, on the eve of Dec. 6th children place a shoe or boot by the fireplace. During the night, St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, hops from house to house carrying a book of sins in which all the naughty children’s names are written. If they have been good, he fills the shoe or boot with delicious holiday treats. Otherwise, the naughty child is confronted with a boot full of twigs.
I know a couple of kids in our village that should be walking with twig filled boots.
Still, I can’t seem to get the image of St. Nicholas hopping from house to house out of my head. Compared to the Easter Bunny, I guess it’s not that absurd.
Try explaining the Easter Bunny to a German and that’s another blog entry all together.
Did I mention that Santa Claus travels by a sled led by eight flying reindeer?
Okay, so the hopping is not as bad as it seems....
In the States, we put up our Christmas tree the week after Thanksgiving, which is the last week in November. Department stores have customers tired of Christmas carols long before December can be printed on their sales receipt.
This I know firsthand because of the 12 years I spent working in visual display. We would replace the Halloween decorations with Christmas and anger many customers. I can still hear the words, “Christmas already?!” ringing in my ears.

In Germany, the Christmas tree is not put up until Christmas Eve. A big meal is served and then the presents are opened.
With not much time to sneak and peek, German parents get to see genuine surprised faces on their children.
As you can see,
there are only a few differences, but many similarities.
All and all Christmas is a time for family.
It doesn’t matter
whether it’s St. Nicholas or Santa Claus or when he brings the gifts.
There is a certain magic this time of year, no matter where you are.
Let the twigs and coal remind us to be nice to those whom are different.
It will make it easier to walk on common ground.

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