Christmas Time (Is Here Again)…Sort Of.

At least that’s how this American feels. Let me explain.

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 🙂


About bittenbythebug

I love travel and have always been fascinated by other cultures. Back in 2004, I began my life as an expat in Edinburgh, Scotland. Fast forward 5 1/2 amazing years later to 2010 and the new chapter in my expat adventure: Würzburg, Germany.
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5 Responses to Christmas Time (Is Here Again)…Sort Of.

  1. Lindsey says:

    I LOVE celebrating Christmas, and I’m so excited it’s nearly December. I would be bummed about the lack of Christmas trappings too – esp. Christmas cards, which I love to send and receive (though I know for some people it’s an annoyance). I guess the lesson is that you should stalk up on Christmas cards while in the US or UK and just post them from Germany when the time comes. In the meantime, enjoy the glühwein…

    • I saw so many cute cards while I was in the US, and I thought about buying some, but then figured nah…they’ll have nice ones in Germany! I did find out that there’s a, so we might go the photo card route instead. I know a lot of people do it (and I always enjoy receiving them), but I feel sort of goofy taking a family portrait of us with the cat. Think I can get her to wear a Santa hat?

  2. fenella says:

    I understand what you’re feeling. My family were essentially celebrating a British Christmas in America. I didn’t realise just how British our Christmases were until I heard more about other people’s and I began having Christmas in Britain.
    – Cathedral choir-sung carols
    – The Snowman cartoon
    – Mince pies, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, turkey (whereas a lot of Americans pick a different meat from turkey again), roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, bread sauce.
    – Crackers
    – Christmas cards to people (it seems to be less done in the states)

    Essentially you’ll create your own Christmas traditions within your family. They’ll probably be an amalgamation of US/UK/German traditions. You can pick the best from each!

    Much as I love the build-up to Xmas here in Britain (somehow less irritating than in the US, probably cuz of the music) I’m happy to be going to my family for Xmas, even if I do have to bring the puddings with me.

    And yes, you should make Mia wear a Santa hat!

    • You’re right – we just need to do some travelling before the holidays and stock up on all my favorite Christmas things before the holiday begins! Let’s see, I’ll take ALL of the British traditions you’ve listed minus the Christmas pudding and the brussel sprouts ! And from the US, how about cute wrapping paper, ABC’s 25 days of Christmas movie marathon, Black Friday and the Xmas tunes blaring over loud speakers (I’m a fan). And from Germany, Christmas markets, lebkuchen and glühwein – it’ll be PERFECT!! =)

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