It is a time full of tradition and a time of family get together. And even though it is the most stressful time of the year as well full of hunting the right presents and getting everything to set up a bright Christmas feast it is as well a time where peace and harmony is valued very much.
All starts round the first Advent the fourth Sunday before Christmas. People decorate their homes and put window hangings and lights or candles. An Advent-wreath made of fir-tree green carrying four candles is put on the main table of each household. The first candle is lit on first of Advent and one more every following Sunday.
In the city centers shop windows are decorated brightly and open Christmas Markets are built up. These markets have many stalls which sell food, spiced wine and lots of handcrafted items which would make a perfect Christmas gift. There is nothing better than a bright icy cold day to go to the Christmas Market explore all the different offers just to finally reach one of the spiced wine stalls and to enjoy a steaming hot cup of this delicious drink which itself to many smells like Christmas.
While adults enjoy a time out on the Christmas Markets children get more and more excited with every day getting closer to Christmas. Children are given Advent-calendars which contain small sweets like a piece of chocolate behind a little door – one each for every day from 1st of December up to 24th of December. I well remember how tempted I was as a child to prematurely open up the doors of my Advents-calendar – only my grandma telling me that Christmas would not come at all if the doors are opened before time kept me from doing so.
A help to get through this nerve racking time of waiting for Christmas for every child is St. Nicklaus Day on 6th of December. On the eve before (5th of December) kids put their empty Nicklaus plate on the dining table and an empty boot in front of their bedroom door – if the child had been behaving well within the past year then the next morning it will find the boot and the plate filled with bright red apples, nuts, oranges and sweets. Saint Nicklaus has been on a visit at night and brought this surprise. Sometimes little presents are found as well but that is a more recent tradition developing.
Well equipped with sweets the long wait till the “big day” – Christmas Eve (24th of December) – is much easier to be dealt with.
On 24th December the wait finally comes to an end. But first the retail experiences it’s busiest day. Supermarkets are filled with busy Mums who get the last bits and pieces for their big Christmas menu fresh from the counter and in the city centers you find stressed masses who do last minute present shopping. However – at 2pm all shops close down and Christmas arrives.
Fortunately many families keep the tradition of going to church on Christmas Eve. It is maybe the only day of the year where churches are filled to the last seat. Most parishes offer three or even four services. The first round 3pm is addressed to families with toddlers and is kept short to pay tribute to the young age of the audience. The second service round 4 or 5 pm is the family service and includes the nativity play. Round 8pm a traditional Christmas service takes place and finally at midnight the Christmas Mass is celebrated.
Which service is attended depends mostly on family circumstances. Where there are kids the first ones are chosen where the family are adult the later ones. Most times it is the close family – parents and their children – attending church together.
After the service the Christmas dinner takes place – often a real testing for the children who hardly can sit still for more than five seconds because they know what comes after the dinner – the gift giving.
But first the menu takes place. Every family has its own traditions but surely something has been cooked which is served only rarely within the year or maybe even just and only or Christmas like maybe a roasted goose with gravy, dumplings and red cabbage.
After the dinner the kids are sent to their rooms. The parents get the presents out of the hidden places in the house and place them round the Christmas Tree. The Christmas Tree is a fresh one that is why it is hardly ever put up earlier than the week before Christmas.
When all is prepared the children are called in again – sometimes a little bell is rung to give them the signal that the “Christkind” (Christ Child) has been there and left some surprises.
Now they see the Christmas Tree with the presents around – and yet have to meet another challenge. Many families practice singing Christmas Carols or reciting Christmas Poems before the gift giving finally takes place.
The 25th and 26th of December are holidays called 1st and 2nd Christmas Day. These days are used to visit the extended family like grandparents and aunts and uncles to continue having big dinners together and additional sessions of gift giving.