It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

October 6, 2006 | 20 comments
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This post is not two months early. It’s two weeks late. Around here, Christmas cookies and candy and multiple varieties of Stollen have been available in grocery stores since the last week of September, and the local hypermarket has a whole aisle devoted to Christmas decorations. There is no Thanksgiving holiday in Germany. Halloween is still a bad excuse for teenagers to dress up and go to parties. While Germans learned to show the flag during the World Cup this summer for the first time in 60 years, showing the flag when the government tells you to show it is still considered in poor taste, so the national holiday on Tuesday was very, very quiet. With no major holidays before First Advent, there is nothing to stop German stores and German consumers from ramping up for Christmas three months ahead of time, just as soon as the back-to-school sales are done. And I love it.

Back in the US, I’d be railing about consumerism and cynical exploitation of religious holidays for profit. But in another country, it’s easier for me to suspend my own cynicism and accept local conditions for what they are. When in Germany, do as the Germans do–and the Germans practically invented Christmas as we know it. The civic celebration of Christmas gets spread over the whole month of December, with Christmas markets occupying any self-respecting town square and public musical performances scheduled any time you can fit one in. The holiday itself gets three days on the calendars, from the 24th to the 26th, but you really have to abandon all hope of getting any kind of work done until after Epiphany. It takes a long time to gear up for a celebration on that scale, so I’m starting today, along with the rest of the country. I’m off to listen to my favorite Christmas music, because the season to be jolly is right now, fa-la-la, la-la-la, la la la.

20 Responses to It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

  1. Russell Arben Fox on October 6, 2006 at 7:59 am

    “Around here, Christmas cookies and candy and multiple varieties of Stollen have been available in grocery stores since the last week of September….”

    Stop making me drool.

    “There is no Thanksgiving holiday in Germany.”

    But wouldn’t it be great if there was? Imagine the food!

    “Halloween is still a bad excuse for teenagers to dress up and go to parties.”

    You know globalization has gone totally wrong when you get various Europeans and Asians using a uniquely what-happened-when-the-Celts-came-to-America holiday to run around and act silly.

    “With no major holidays before First Advent, there is nothing to stop German stores and German consumers from ramping up for Christmas three months ahead of time, just as soon as the back-to-school sales are done.”

    Pretty much the same thing happens in Canada. They celebrate Halloween, but as their Thanksgiving is in October, they’ll be plowing full force into Christmas preparations in a just a couple of weeks.

    “Back in the US, I’d be railing about consumerism and cynical exploitation of religious holidays for profit.”

    Except that Christmas remains, in a civic sense, much more a religious holiday in Germany than in the U.S., thanks to the legacy of state churches. The next time anyone feels a need to complain about the fact that their boss makes them show up for work on Christmas (or work a full day on Christmas Eve), blame the disestablishment of religion.

    “When in Germany, do as the Germans do–and the Germans practically invented Christmas as we know it.”

    The Victorians and various New Englanders helped a lot too, though.

    “The civic celebration of Christmas gets spread over the whole month of December, with Christmas markets occupying any self-respecting town square…”

    I’ve always wanted to attend a genuine Christkindlmarkt. I hear the one in Nuremberg is the biggest.

    “I’m off to listen to my favorite Christmas music, because the season to be jolly is right now, fa-la-la, la-la-la, la la la.”

    Favorite Christmas music? Why, you have but to ask.

  2. meems on October 6, 2006 at 8:04 am

    You lucky guy! It sounds very idyllic.
    Right now in Malaysia we have so many holidays back to back, there isn’t time to gear up for any of them. The Mooncake Festival came and went with only a bit of notice (my kids celebrated today with a school parade). In a couple weeks is Deepavali (Hindu), backed right up against Hari Raya (Muslim – end of Ramadan). November is relatively calm, but then Christmas stuff goes up in December, and the minute all the new Year stuff is taken down, well, it’s Chinese New Year! I love it, truly, but I miss the big build up to a long traditional Christmas.

  3. Naismith on October 6, 2006 at 8:56 am

    I’m surprised that you left Oktoberfest off the list of holidays this time of year…I realize it is more of a Bavarian thing, but when I lived in Frankfurt, and there were towns just a few hours away that held an Oktoberfest celebration–very much a country-fair type atmosphere, with lots of great food, music and entertainment as well as the more obvious brew-and-vintage sampling activities.

    So how do German LDS deal with Oktoberfest–do they ignore it, avoid it, or go and enjoy the non-drinking parts?

  4. Sarah on October 6, 2006 at 9:09 am

    I refuse to do any shopping for Christmas until after my birthday (a week before Halloween.) I’m sorry, but if you devote 25% of your year to the holiday, I don’t honestly consider it a holiday anymore. I get sick of summer vacation after about six weeks, and there isn’t a mandatory soundtrack to go along with summer the way there is with Christmas.

    (also, all my favorite crafty stuff that isn’t holiday related is on sale this week, as the hobby store is making room for more Christmas junk; I just made a cute beaded anklet for half the usual cost!)

  5. Russell Arben Fox on October 6, 2006 at 9:42 am

    “So how do German LDS deal with Oktoberfest–do they ignore it, avoid it, or go and enjoy the non-drinking parts?”

    I don’t know how the German Saints themselves deal with it. We celebrated out family’s Oktoberfest this week, as we’ve arbitrarily decided to celebrate the holiday on October 3, Reunification Day. We drank root beer. Not the same, I know (except, having never drank a beer, I don’t really, but I can guess). Hanging out in biergartens with an apfelsaft is nice and all, but my judgment was, and is, that this a cultural artifact–and by no means a necessarily negative one–that LDS can only observe, not enjoy. By the same token, I assume that LDS in France can really only get so much out the wine country; there’s a lot they just plain miss.

  6. Ronan on October 6, 2006 at 9:59 am

    For Oktoberfest I heartily recommend Null Komma Josef. Kaliber is good too.

  7. maria on October 6, 2006 at 10:12 am

    Mmm…stollen…one of the great benefits of having a German grandmother. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without stollen.

  8. Jonathan Green on October 6, 2006 at 11:10 am

    Oktoberfest is not a German holiday. Oktoberfest is not a Bavarian holiday. It’s a celebration in Munich. Admittedly, a big celebration for which people come from all over, but it’s very much a localized tradition. As such, it’s in competition with every other local celebration, of which there is approximately one per church steeple some time during the year. That sounds facetious, but it’s mostly true.

    The people in the town where I live like to point out that their annual fling is actually older than Oktoberfest. Also, they’re Bavarians only in the political sense, which is far from the most important sense when it comes to beer festivals. Culturally and linguistically, they’re Franconians. Why should they get excited about Oktoberfest when the Bergkirchweih is closer and offers local beer? (“Beer” is a pretty good answer to that question, but apart from that…) I haven’t asked the Munich members how they deal with Oktoberfest, but I assume that the ones who aren’t into beer all that much don’t go inside the beer tents and grab a Stein. For this town’s local beer festival in May, we like to take our kids to the carnival rides and grab a bite to eat during the day.

  9. Starfoxy on October 6, 2006 at 11:14 am

    I can’t even think about Christmas yet- it’s 76 degerees here right now (8am), and that’s colder than usual because it was raining a little.
    I can, however, think about food. Mmmmm- Turkey!

  10. danithew on October 6, 2006 at 11:24 am

    It really is a bit strange when Christmas stuff is showing up before Halloween is even here …

  11. queuno on October 6, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    In other words … Oktoberfest is about as German as St. Patrick’s Day is Irish.

  12. random me on October 6, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    christmas stuff went up here in september; september 1st in walmart. halloween came weeks later. sad.

  13. Kevin Barney on October 6, 2006 at 4:11 pm

    Jonathan, I’m quite envious. And thank you for loving it and not hating it. I’m a big Christmas fan, and I personally enjoy an extended Christmas celebration (even the commercial aspects), contra the vast majority who are Scrooges and don’t want to think about Christmas until Xmas Eve.

    In Chicago they have a German Christmas village in the Daley Center Plaza from Thanksgiving to Xmas, and I get my Stollen and Strudel fix there. I walk down to the Plaza almost every day that it’s there just to soak up the German atmosphere.

  14. Christian Whitney on October 6, 2006 at 4:47 pm

    When I was on a mission in Duesseldorf, some members had a celebration in the cultural hall they called \”Erntedankfest.\” Is that an official Thanksgiving-like holiday in Germany? Or is that something those members adopted from the U.S.?

  15. Jonathan Green on October 6, 2006 at 11:01 pm

    Christian, the concept of a Thanksgiving-like celebration seems more or less familiar to your average German, but there’s no national or state commemoration on a particular date that I’m aware of. So there’s a good chance that the members had picked up Thanksgiving from the missionaries or American families in the ward–but of all American cultural exports, Thanksgiving has got to be the one we can be most proud of.

  16. Chad Too on October 6, 2006 at 11:27 pm

    Jonathan, somehow I missed the story of why you and your family are in Europe currently. Though as a former Michigander myself, I don’t blame you…

  17. Tatiana on October 7, 2006 at 1:50 am

    We invited British friends to celebrate Thanksgiving with us here in the states, once, and they enjoyed it so much that when they went back to Britain, they started observing it themselves in their own family, inviting all their American expatriot friends to join them. Thanksgiving is awesome! I bet that holiday ends up exporting itself all over the world eventually.

  18. Rose Green on October 7, 2006 at 2:19 am

    No. Erntendankfest is not something members picked up from the missionaries. Not unless they’ve somehow exported it to the local Catholics and Lutherans. Last week a flyer came home from school, inviting us to attend a (Lutheran? Catholic?) church service for Erntendankfest. I believe it’s more on the order of, “Why look at the calendar, it’s Secretaries’ Day!”, however.

    And the way Oktoberfest events get staged in America does indeed inflate and distort its importance in Germany. Instead of a holiday, or something that every German looks forward to all year, it’s more like the county fair. No agricultural entries, but other than that, it’s a chance for all the locals to enjoy carnival rides, eat wurst and other barbecue/outdoor festive foods, and hear live music on stage (comparable to the country music you hear at US county fairs). And of course, if you want beer, it’s there, too, but then, it’s also at McDonald’s.

    (Speaking from the experience of going to our own local event, and not Oktoberfest. But as Jonathan says, ours is older!)

  19. Wilfried on October 7, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    And what happened to dear Sankt Nikolaus who comes on December 6th? I thought he was still important in Germany? In Belgium and the Netherlands, all is at standstill until Sinterklaas has come. Shops and markets, all are Sinterklaas-centered the whole month of November. Has nothing to do with Christmas. Then, only after Sankt Nicolaus’ return to Spain or Smyrna, will the Christmas tide start. Of course we still have the original Sinterklaas, the real Catholic bishop, no confusion possible with that heathen usurpator called Santa Claus who is out to get more attention than Jesus on Christmas. OK, I know, now all the ethnologists and anthropologists are going to prove me wrong… Thanks for an interesting post, Jonathan!

  20. el_godofredo on October 8, 2006 at 3:30 pm

    I don’t know if Germans use the term “hypermart” or if you were just making a funny, but (with apologies to King of the Hill) I prefer the term “megalo-mart”.

    My Spanish mother-in-law in Spain said that last year some kids knocked on her door on Oct 31 and they somewhat sheepishly said, “Well, in America, kids go around and ask for candy today” Not quite as catchy as “trick-or-treat” but it served it’s intended purpose. They weren’t dressed in costumes or anything. I wonder if they hit her up because it is well known that she has two daughters in the US.