As you may or may not have noticed, I live in Liverpool, United Kingdom, The World, The Universe (etc.), together with my British fiancé. I myself, however, am the holder of a German passport, a country I have spent the majority of my life in, apart from brief stints in South Africa and the United States. Before this year, I’ve always spent the festive season (most of it, at least) with my parents and therefore just followed their lead and their traditions. This year, however, it’s all a little bit different.
For the first time ever, my fiancé and I will be spending Christmas together, which is something I’m really excited about. This is also the first year that we’re properly living together, and the first time I’ve really felt like I have a home of my own to decorate as I please. While this has all been very exciting, it’s also brought up some fundamental cultural differences. ‘Christmas Shock’ would be a more drastic term. I can hear you all shouting “What could POSSIBLY be so different between Christmas in Germany and Christmas in England??” but if you’ve ever been exposed to both, you know the answer: everything.
It starts with the fact that over here on the island, gifts and fancy dinners take place on the 25th of December. Say what!? I know this is the norm in many cultures, but to my poor German brain it just seems absurd. While we’ll be spending Christmas with the future husband’s family and this problem has therefore been solved for us, we’re still locked in a power struggle over what we’ll do when we have our own family. A meal on the 24th, gifts on the 25th? Half a gift on Christmas eve, the other half on Christmas Day? That wouldn’t work, we’d have to saw things apart… although I’m definitely not opposed to the idea of having nice meals on both days!
I feel slightly silly for worrying about these things at all, it seems so shallow and materialistic when my main focus at Christmas is spending time with my family, but when you come from two different cultures it becomes really apparent how deeply engrained these traditions actually are, and how important they are to the way you celebrate any festivity.
One thing I definitely took from my German roots is the Advent Crown. While it seems to be common here to hang a festive wreath on your front door, my family always use a decorated pine crown as a centrepiece for the entirety of advent. As you can see in the picture, there are four candles on it, and one more is lit each Advent Sunday.
I also insisted on celebrating Saint Nicholas. On the 6th of December, it is customary for German (and many other European) children to find a small gift, some sweets and satsumas and nuts in their boots. Only if they’ve cleaned their shoes the night before, though! I didn’t want to make a huge deal out of it, but I think it’s such a sweet tradition I really couldn’t bear to part with, so I hid a card, some fruit and vegan Booja Booja truffles in my fiancé’s shoe.
Slowly but surely, I feel like our own little family traditions are falling into place and by the time we have children, we’ll surely have it all sorted out. I’m actually very glad that we come from slightly different backgrounds, because it means that the elements we do decide to incorporate will be extra-special, not just in terms of Christmas but applied to everything else too! I think my favourite part of starting a life together is figuring out our own way of doing things, a way that might not appeal to anyone else but is perfect for us.
Have you ever had to compromise or merge family traditions? How did you do it?