Germany is known around the world as being perhaps the most “Christmasy” country, like, ever. They originated the Christmas market and spread it to other countries (okay, technically I don’t know this to be a fact, but they are usually called “German Christmas Markets” in whatever city they set up shop in, so I’m sort of assuming….) For those of you that haven’t been to one, you get a mug of yummy hot glühwein, or mulled wine, eat a sausage or two, and check out the stalls of (usually) handmade gift items like wooden toys and ornaments, candles, etc. Anyway, nobody does Christmas like the Germans, right? Weeeell, yes and no.
I think there’s no argument, really, that Germany pretty much takes the cake in celebrating Christmas in a very traditional way, but what’s been interesting is seeing the difference (at least so far) in how German retailers treat the Christmas season. Most people reading this are either from the US or Britain, so you will all know what I mean when I say that in both countries, retailers go all out in both atmosphere and merchandise to promote the Christmas season. Festive music blares from loud speakers, aisle after aisle after aisle is dedicated to selling tinsel, ornaments and wrapping paper. Christmas-themed movies (at least in the US) play practically every day on television during the month of December. Some might argue it’s overkill, I suppose, but here in Germany, it’s all much less…hyped.
Don’t get me wrong. The stores have tinsel and ornaments in their displays, and I’ve found quite a few nice ornaments and Christmasy things in a home decor chain called Butlers, as well as in a few smaller, independent shops. But I went to the biggest department store in Wuerzburg yesterday expecting to find tons of wrapping paper, Christmas decor, etc. for sale, and instead I found a section on the ground floor devoted to Christmas chocolates (which I can’t complain about. The US, in particular, should take lessons in amping up promoting good chocolates for the season). There was also a smallish section on the very top floor with some Christmas decor items. And wrapping paper? Well, it was back on the ground floor in the stationary department and had a few Christmas rolls to choose from amongst all the other types. Christmas cards? Forget it. They apparently only sell individual cards (some of which are very nice) but unfortunately run around 2 euros a piece. So forget mailing them out to everyone and their brother, because that would break the bank. Frankly, I was sort of disappointed.
I shared this with the Mr. His response? “Good. It’s not nearly so commercial here, huh?” Part of me knows he’s right. Germans (as is usually the case) seem to have this knack for knowing how to focus on what’s really important. A Christmas market is an opportunity to do something together with family and friends, enjoying simple pleasures like good food and drink. And the gifts you buy there are probably made by hand – maybe even locally – and not in some factory in a developing country that pays slave wages. That doesn’t mean that Germans don’t buy the cheap, factory-produced goods, too, but they probably don’t buy as much of it. And Christmas cards? Well, one could argue that charity cards do a lot to help out deserving organizations, but I suppose from an environmental standpoint it’s better to refrain and just send a donation instead.
Still, this lack of “Christmas wow” from a retail point of view is…an adjustment. I’ll admit it: I enjoy shopping, so I’m missing being able to spend an hour choosing which Christmas cards to buy and going through bin after bin of wrapping paper to find just the right design. It’s part of what I have traditionally looked forward to and enjoyed about the Christmas season. Heck, it’s part of what gets me into the Christmas spirit. But living in another country should also mean learning from that culture, and I know the Mr. (and the rest of Germany) is right. Christmas isn’t about stuff, and it’s probably for my own good that I’m being reminded of that.
Guess I’ll just have to get myself into the Christmas spirit by watching my own Christmas movie marathon instead. I think I know what to start with 🙂