… was definitely not the motto on Christmas at our house growing up (and still isn’t). The celebrations of Jesus’ birthday usually consisted of singing, playing games, blasting Christmas music, and indulging in good food. The family traditions continue to this day, but the family has expanded quite a bit since my childhood days.
In Germany, the gift exchange traditionally happens on December 24, Christmas Eve. I can still remember when I was a younger kid how excited I was on this day. My anticipation rose to the max when the glass door leading to our living room was covered with linen so that I was unable to see when Santa would arrive to drop off the presents. Nowadays, I couldn’t care less about material gifts, but I am sure we all remember how that was the highlight when we were little.
The “usual” Christmas Eve for my family looked like this: During the day, we would listen to Christmas music, decorate the tree, play games, prepare part of the food for dinner, and just relax. In the younger stages of my life, my grandmas were present with us during the Holidays as well.
At three p.m., we attended the mass at our local church. I grew up in a pretty small suburban town of Dusseldorf, which means that when you went to mass on Christmas Eve, you basically knew everybody attending. So once the service was over, my parents were chatting with neighbors, friends, and acquaintances before we headed back home. At that time, my excitement was almost unbearable, and it seemed like hours until we would finally be back at the house.
But before it was time for the gift exchange, we would all gather around the tree and sing Christmas songs. I know this sounds cheesy, but my father took a lot of pride in establishing this tradition. Later on, when I was a teenager, I was playing the piano while everybody else was singing (probably for the best since I have a terrible singing voice).
Once we finished the last tune, it was present time. After every gift had been unwrapped and inspected, it was time for what is now, being an adult, my favorite part: food. The traditional family dinner consisted of meat fondue with plenty of side dishes. Dinner on Christmas Eve usually lasted for hours and included lots of booze (not for the kids, of course) and laughter.
Once the table was cleaned up, it was time for game night. Card games, board games, activity games…You name it, we did it. Game night was accompanied by more booze and candy. Believe it or not, there was always, always room for candy in my family, even after a multiple-hour dinner. Our Christmas Eve agenda (minus the gift exchange and church visit) usually continued throughout December 25 and 26, which are both Holidays in Germany.
When I moved out to Huntington Beach, I traveled back to Europe for Christmas during the first couple years. I haven’t been to Germany now for two years, but we are keeping the Christmas tradition alive over here in California, including the good food, drinks, games, and laughter. Except for this year, we are having one sweet addition: a two-month-old baby girl. And with that, our Christmas night will definitely be anything but silent.
I wish all of you a very merry Christmas, no matter how you celebrate! Happy Holidays!
Anne-Kathrin Schulte is a contributor for CaliforniaGermans.com. She writes about her personal experience of the American Dream as well as on working as an au pair in CA. She was born and grew up in Düsseldorf, Germany, where she completed her degree as a state-approved Kindergarten teacher. After her au pair engagement in the US and a quick return to Germany, she decided to attend university in California and moved back to the United States. She has been living in Southern California since 2011.
If you would like to contact Anne-Kathrin, please send an email to californiagermans(at)gmail.com and place her name in the subject line.