Advent adventure

Paar auf dem Weihnachtsmarkt

As my fellow observer of the German culture Adam Fletcher writes in his new book How To Be German – Part 2, Christmas is serious business in Germany. And it all starts with the run-up to Christmas, which is Adventszeit (Advent season). There are certain things any self-respecting German should do. Here’s a bit of Adventiquette …

Christmas seems to be coming sooner each year. Supermarkets started displaying Christmas paraphernalia such as Lebkuchen (a type of gingerbread), Spekulatius (spicy biscuits) and not to forget the all-German currency Dominosteine (cubes of layered chocolate, gingerbread and marzipan) in late September this year. So you’ve just waved off your beach towel into hibernation and, poof!, it’s Christmas!

And every year I make the mistake of thinking I have plenty of time till Christmas. And every year, the Erster Advent (first Sunday of Advent) comes as an utter surprise. We interpreters have high season in November. So there I am, working my arse off with no figurative room to swing a cat, and I suddenly find myself hauling my exhausted body into the catacombs of my home to find the box with the Christmas decorations because – Lesson 1 – Germans perfuse their places with Räuchermännchen smoke and clutter them with tinsel, an Adventskranz (advent wreath) and possibly even a Christmas tree the fricking second the clock strikes 24th December minus four Sundays, which was 27th November this year.

Lesson 2: Have Adventskaffee on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. In the hardcore (read: default) version, this includes offering a home-baked variety of at least three different sorts of Christmassy biscuits you prepared earlier in life. Not to forget the lighting of the candle(s) and, should you be so inclined, a dollop of Hausmusik.

Lesson 3: Craft an Advent calendar for someone. Honestly, parents go mental just before the end of November. My friend saw one of her friends in a shopping frenzy the other day because when confronting her fourteen and fifteen-year-old daughters with the fact that she assumed they had ‘outgrown’ Advent calendar age, she saw tears dwelling up in her teenage offspring’s eyes.

My own mother, much to my amusement, kept doing Advent calendars for us until we moved out. Thanks to her, I will never run out of little ‘useful’ things such as permanent markers and paper clips in my whole life.

Regarding the crafting front, I went on strike this year, though. After giving my older daughter one little present a day from 1st to 24th December for several years, seeing her roll her eyes at most of the gifts I had so lovingly and carefully selected, I decided it was time to opt for the path of least resistance, hop on the capitalist toy industry’s bandwagon and buy a Playmobil Advent calendar. And what can I say? They. Just. Love it. Every shitty little farmer’s fork provokes outbursts of limitless delight. I’ve spent less time and money, and they are happy as shit. Win-win. What more could a parent’s heart desire?

Lesson 4: On the evening of 5th December, children put one of their (polished!) boots outside the front door and wait for Nikolaus to fill it up with goodies (read more here). Yes, this is on top of Advent calendars and Christmas presents! I know: in November most German parents are left with nothing but heels to chew on while their children feast on the horn of plenty. Modern German Parenting 101.

Lesson 5: In the ample free time that is not used on crafting, baking, decorating, shopping, cleaning boots or playing music, see to your other Germanic duties such as downing some Glühwein (mulled wine) or Feuerzangenbowle (read more on this here) at the Christmas market, eating some Grünkohl (kale – yes, forget the smoothie movement – we started it many moons ago) and, most importantly, joining a round of Wichteln (Secret Santa) or Schrottwichteln (‘Scrap Secret Santa’ – find the most horrible gifts).

Any questions?

Ah, did I mention it’s one of my favourite times of year?

The Pommes Buddha says: Have a lovely German December!

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Prost!

Zwei Gläser Feuerzangenbowle

Glühwein, many Germans would imagine, is a very German thing. Hot red wine with citrus fruit and spices … we’ve known and enjoyed it for generations. Those affiliated with the Swedish culture – by relation or through the marketing stunts of a certain Swedish furniture company – will be familiar with the Scandinavian variant glögg. But did you know that the English have it, too?

I was surprised to hear that ‘mulled wine’ is not just a translation of glögg or Glühwein, but is actually its own long-standing tradition in Great Britain. Though probably drunk primarily at home and not at Christmas markets, which are just starting to gain ground over there, the concept – and presumably most recipes – are utterly identical.

The Wikipedia entry for ‘mulled wine’, however, reminded me of an interesting German variation of the Glühwein formula, namely Feuerzangenbowle (literally ‘fire tongs punch’), which has earned its own right, both as a cult film to be watched as a happening Rocky-Horror-Picture-Show style with bring-along gadgets such as an alarm clock, a torch and a sparkler and as the beverage which gave the film (or rather the book it is based on) its name and is now the flagship drink for New Year’s Eve. Picture a large bowl of mulled wine and a bridge-like metal contraption suspended across the opening of said bowl and holding a large sugar cone. This sugar cone is then soaked with rum and set on fire. More rum is added until the sugar cone has completely dissolved, dripping, together with the rum, into the wine. This light, low-calorie drink is guaranteed to make all of your guests happy.

And, how do you take yours – subtitled or dubbed? Read more next week …

For the purpose of promoting international understanding, here’s Jamie Oliver’s recipe for mulled wine(including one lime!): http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/recipe/jamie-s-mulled-wine/.

The Pommes Buddha says: Dust off your punch bowls and stoke the fire!

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