As an American with German descent, the holiday season from Thanksgiving to Christmas is highly treasured in my household. Thankfully I have a history with living overseas and have hence devoted myself and my family to international cultures, even during the holidays. A visitor to my household may be swirled into a candy cane confusion as to what ethnicity my family actually is composed. Here are seven of my families’ traditions that can easily be accepted into your household:
1. Advent Calendar is a tradition hailing from Germany that helps impatient children, or adults such as me, to count down the 25 days of Christmas during the month of December. Let me tell you, if you have children that continuously ask how many days until Christmas, an Advent Calendar is a blessing. There are numerous types of calendars available in stores around the world. Our family has the tradition of purchasing a rectangle style paper constructed box. It almost looks like a painting canvas in size and thickness. The painted calendar contains twenty-four one-inch squared doors that reveal little pieces of candy, mainly just dark chocolates in the shape of Christmas symbols. Finally there is a two-inch door that contains a larger piece of candy. It is a nice way for children to remember how many days are left until Christmas and leaves the parents just a little sanity. These can be purchased in stores, online, or homemade. An alternative name is the German name of “Der Adventskalender”.
2. Crackers, Cheese and Sausage for decorating is a small tradition in my family. Not really sure where this tradition came from however it has been done since before I was born. My family takes a special trip to the market to get a spread of crackers, various cheeses, and summer sausage. Although my family went vegan this last year, we will continue to celebrate this tradition with possibly a soy sausage of sorts, vegan cheeses, and vegan crackers. Once the platter has been spread out on homemade Christmas dishes, we decorate the “Der Tannenbaum”, the Christmas tree. It is a nice time for the entire family to snack on savory treats, chat and decorate the tree. It may take longer to decorate but it is the best time to chat and really connect with the family.
3. Christmas Cake is a Japanese tradition that we like to celebrate in our household. Slightly strange sounding but the Japanese like to have special Japanese cakes to honor the commercialism of the holiday season. After living in Japan, I learned many of the citizens do not know the true meaning of Christmas but do have a stronghold of the commercialized aspect of the holiday. Thanks to the Japanese, our family now has a fun time decorating a Japanese sugarless version of the sponge cake with miniature trees, a miniature Santa Claus and other miniature figurines.
4. Mulled Cider is the perfect warm drink for those cold adventures outside. This is another tradition that has been passed down from my German ancestors. Traditionally this drink was originally a spiced wine called “Glühwein”. Since my grandparents and parents do not generally prefer to drink wine, at some time they transitioned into a more Swedish drink called Glögg. Glögg starts with cider (can also be wine), some homey ingredients readily available such as cinnamon, orange rinds and whole cloves, and for adults an additional shot of dark rum. It is not uncommon throughout the entire month of December to have mulled cider steaming in the crock-pot waiting for cold drinkers.
5. Christmas Eve Baking Time is a common event in my household. Our entire family gets together at my parents house to bake while waiting for Santa and his reindeer. Seriously, this is the time to come, just follow the smell to our house. On the previous days, we have baked trays upon trays of sugar cookies to be completely cooled by Christmas Eve. Since my husband and I have moved out of the state, we drive hours with a full batch of sugar cookies to add to the collection hanging out at my parents. Then the little kids and adults all sit around the dining room table with dozens of sprinkles, various colors of frosting, and decorating tools. It is a strange sight (similar to a hurricane disaster site) since the entire room is filled with parchment paper and around thirty messy decorators. On Christmas Day everyone takes plates of decorated cookies to friends and family members. The cookies that were decorated later in the evening, as everyone gets silly (which might have something to do with the some people drinking spiked mulled cider) we tend to hide from others and keep for ourselves.
6. Christmas Eve Church Service is held late at night, after we have finished our cookie decorating, and is the most important event of our Christmas. The part of the family that did not indulge in the spiked mulled cider attends the late night church service around 11P.M. This type of candlelight service is held in many different denominations around the world. This service is held late in the evening for one-hour so that churchgoers can bring in the Christmas together by singing Christmas and religious songs. It is a great way for everyone to have a good time while waiting for Santa Claus to come to our house.
7. Christmas Eve one present rule has been a tradition in my family since I was young. I am not sure if this is a tradition from another country or just one that my family started. It is a simple tradition however it is something that my sister and I looked forward to each and every year. After the group returns from Christmas Eve service, half hyped from the service and half hyped up on all the cookie decorations we ate earlier in the evening, to open one present each. We have all kept this tradition for the younger generations in the family. The gifts that are opened are usually stuffed animals, pajamas or something small to entice the younger ones to bed. It is a great bribe for tired adults!
These are seven simple traditions that my family celebrates each and every year. We simply never get tired of any one of them and wish that our happy moments can be passed to your family.