Wednesday, December 22, 2010


    Christmas begins early in Germany with the season of advent.  Starting 4 weeks before the big day, a wreath made of fir tree branches, or holly or other greens, is laid on a table.  There are 4 candles placed around the wreath and one is lit each Sunday of Advent.  A little bit about Advent, since it is an important part of the season.  It begins on the 4th Sunday before Christmas Day, the Sunday nearest November 30th, and ends on Christmas Eve.  If Christmas Eve is a Sunday, it is counted as the 4th Sunday of Advent.  Advent is a time of fasting and prayer, leading up to the Christmas Eve feast.  There is a special tradition for children during Advent, too.  It is the Advent calender.  It is made up of 24 windows, one to be opened each day of Advent.  In most of the Advent calendars, there is a picture to be revealed each day, but the more elaborate ones can hide little presents or candy treats.
    The market places throughout Germany turn into Wonderlands.  The entire area is decorated with lights and trees, the stalls sell all kinds of merchandise and there is the smell of fresh baked gingerbread mixed with the smells of the delicious sausage and other treats.  It really gets you in the Christmas mood and the children are excited at the thought of the events to come.

   The Christmas tree, although it goes back many centuries, was transformed in Germany to what we have today.  In Germany, it is the centerpiece of the Christmas celebrations.  Germany is famous for the beautiful glass ornaments that are made by many different artisans.  The tree is also decorated with cookies, candies and other treats and of course,  the Christmas lights.  It is tradition not to get the tree before December 23rd.  On Christmas Eve, the tree is put up, usually by the mother of the family, and the children cannot see the tree until it is ready and the presents are there.  The very young children are put to bed, and then woken up at midnight and allowed to see the tree and open their presents.  The presents on Christmas Eve are brought by Christkindl, an angel sent by God to deliver the presents.  This is the second day children get presents, they also receive small gifts on December 6th, St. Nicholas Day, when they leave shoes or boots by the fireplace or at the foot of their beds for St. Nicholas to fill with small toys and treats.  The tree is left up until January 6th.  On Three Kings Day,  the children get another treat.  After all,  the cookies and other treats that were on the tree cannot be saved until next year and nothing should be wasted, so they might as well eat them.


   The big meal is eaten on Christmas Eve and the main course includes goose.  A typical meal will consist of  roast goose, potatoes, cabbage, red or white carrots, parsnip and pickles.  And of course there are the home baked treats for dessert.
   Christmas day is spent visiting, maybe with another dinner at the grandparents or some other relatives house.  Of course there are more presents.  Both December 25th and December 26th are holidays in Germany.  Alot of time for visiting with friends and family.


    Brits who follow tradition for celebrating Christmas in England will put up their trees precisely 12 days before Christmas, and take them down precisely 12 days after Christmas. 
   Each and every member of the family, by tradition,  stirs the pudding with a wooden spoon from east to west.  This is intended to represent the honorable Three Kings.  Then, the family drops a silver coin into the pudding mixture before it is cooked.  The lucky person who gets the coin when the pudding is doled out,  is supposed to be in line for wealth, health and happiness.  if they keep the coin, that's a start toward the wealth....unless they happen to be the same family member who produced the coin in the first place, of course.


   English folks started decorating their trees in 1841, after Prince Albert arranged for a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle to be strewn with lights, as a gift to Queen Victoria and their children.  This carried out a long time tradition that Prince Albert adopted from Germany.  Precisely a century later, relations between the two nations would not be so cordial, but celebrating Christmas in England still involves decorating a tree.
   When they celebrate Christmas in England, they don't have Santa Claus.  In England he is called Father Christmas.  The kids can hang their stocking on the fireplace, but they also have the option instead of placing their stocking at the ends of their beds.  The "end of the bed" alternative should eliminate concerns about Father Christmas, like Santa, coming down the chimney into a roaring fire.  But wait!  There also is a legend that if British children write letters to Father Christmas and toss them into the fireplace, somehow their messages will turn into smoke that wafts up the chimney and carries directly to Father Christmas.


   The English Christmas is traditionally celebrated with an early morning unwrapping of presents, followed by a Christmas lunch.  Some typical menu items for an English Christmas lunch include a roasted turkey, gravy, roasted potatoes, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts, and root vegetables,  such as parsnips and carrots. For dessert it's usually  a Christmas cake (fruit cake, often made with brandy, marzipan and white icing).  The Christmas cake is often made a couple of months in advance to give it time to age.  the flavours blend together for a rich, moist taste.  Another traditional dessert is the Christmas pudding.  It is made with dried fruits which are pressed into a bowl to create a round shape. The Christmas pudding is topped with brandy and lit so that a flame appears momentarily before it is served.  For safety sake, this dessert should only be prepared by someone knowledgeable and experienced with preparing it.  Finally, traditional treats of an English Christmas are mince pies.  They are made of a sweet blend of fruits and spices which are used to fill a small pastry crust.
   A unique aspect of celebrating Christmas in England is the Christmas cracker.  These small wrapped toys are placed on the Christmas table before lunch.  When pulled apart, they make a loud "pop" sound-hence the name Christmas cracker.  Inside,  there is usually a paper crown and some type of toy or gadget. Everyone puts on their paper crown to enjoy the Christmas lunch.

   An idea for celebrating Christmas in England,  is to book reservations at a pub or restaurant.  Many English pubs and restaurants provide a special meal at Christmas or Christmas Eve.  However, book well in advance, because it's a popular option.
   Many British families take a vacation during the Christmas holidays in England.  Hotels and Bed and Breakfasts tend to get booked up quickly, so plan ahead.
   Celebrating Christmas in England  means many days of celebrations.  Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, is also one of the holidays that are celebrated.  Families might enjoy a meal together or enjoy a walk by the seaside.
   Celebrating Christmas in England is a fun way to learn about different traditions.  Just keep in mind that most businesses are closed for the holiday so buy any supplies you need well in advance for your English Christmas.


    Christmas movies come in a variety of genres.  From musicals, to drama, comedy to animated.  Here is a list of what I think and hopefully you will to, of some of  the better  Christmas movies to  watch and enjoy every Christmas season. Some are entertaining and meaningful, while others are just fun to watch and bring a big laugh out of you and puts a great big smile on your face.   Just by looking at the movie DVD covers,  you start reminiscing about your favorite parts  and what the movie meant to you and how it made you feel.  opping it into the DVD player with all of the excitement,  just as if it were first time you've seen it.

  • White Christmas (1954)- World War II ends and army buddies Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye form a song and dance team and hit the road.  The end up putting on a program to help their ex commanding general with surprises for him and them.

  • The Nativity Story (2006)- In my mind this is the best depiction of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.  No sterile boring reproduction, this one has good acting, cinematography, and special effects (without having headliner actors and actresses in it.

  • A Christmas Story (1983)-I know of no one who doesn't love this classic Christmas movie.  It plays all Christmas day in the United States.  It is also now a musical on Broadway directed by the man who played Ralphie as a boy.  Young Ralphie desperately wants a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas but everyone that is an adult in his life discourages him that it would be too dangerous.   It's a "traditional 1950's Christmas in this hilarious story as Ralphie pleads and bargains to make sure that the BB gun is under the tree on Christmas morning.

  • The Santa Clause (1994)- The first one in a series of sequels is always the best.  A Christmas movie comedy and heartwarming story of Santa in training with amazing images of the North Pole Workshop.  Tim Allen plays the lead, Santa and does a very good job at it.

  • The Polar Express (2004)- Based on a book by Chris Van Allsburg.  This is one of the first computer animated movies to look more lifelike than animation in the past.  It is about a little boy who has lost his faith in Santa.  He ends up on the "Polar Express" train on his way to the North Pole to see Santa and the elves and to get back his belief in Santa Claus.  A very exciting train ride happens on the way to the North Pole.  Lots of great music in it also.

  • It's a Wonderful Life (1946)- One of those "feel good" movies from the past.  An essential classic Christmas movie directed by Frank Capra, starring Jimmy Stewart as George, the main character in the story.  He wishes he had not been born when things around him start to unravel.  George goes back in time to see what it would be like if he wasn't born.

  • Elf (2003)- Starring Will Ferrell.  I think one of his better movies.  It starts out with Santa delivering presents in an orphanage, when Buddy (Will Ferrel) as a baby sneaks into Santa's bag and isn't discovered until he gets back at the North Pole.  So he grows up as an oversized elf, but seems to not be cut out for it.  He finds out he was adopted and decides to set out and find his real father who lives in New York City.  This is when his different adventures begin.  I very funny holiday movie.  Don't miss seeing it at least once.

  • Scrooged (1999)- Starring Bill Murray.  He plays an executive at a major t.v. station who's lost all meaning of Christmas.  It takes the funny side of a Christmas Carol, with different ghost's of Christmas past, present and future than you're probably used to.  It's worth a laugh or two or three!

  • A Christmas Carol (2000)- Starring Patrick Stewart (Captain Pickard from Star Trek).  One of my favorite renditions of A Christmas Carol.  He has also done it as a one man stage show on stage.  He is one of the better actors to doe Mr. Scrooge.  If you find it on t.v. or on DVD at least see it once and tell me what you think.