Most Euroculturers are multiple-identity-layered beings. We have studied, worked, lived and loved in different places, and frequently we call more than one place our home. But when Christmas comes closer, it claims our full commitment to the used-to-be traditions and the one-family, one-home cliché – a real challenge when trying to get into the Christmas mood of an almost-home. A personal collection of bits and pieces of a pre-Christmas maze in Spain and the yearning for being home-with-family in Germany.
Anne Kurzweg │ firstname.lastname@example.org
Strangely enough, I noted the first signs of pre-Christmas confusion already in October when it was still relatively warm in Northern Spain. First, Pamplona’s street lights reminded me of Christmas illumination after dawn (it had just gotten cold enough to wear a jacket and scarf at night). Then, I got romantic one morning when I gazed at the distant snowy mountain tops from the bus window on my way to work; and I soon found myself listening to my favourite winter movie soundtrack while the bus made its way through the ever green, sheep-dotted Basque hills. Here and there, golden rays of autumn sunshine lit the landscape of profound valleys and imposing chains of mountains lined with green, ochre, yellow and orange shaded forests. For sure, it was way too colourful still to be winter, let alone Christmas: several times I had watched the day being born in bright orange light or cushioned in fluffy pink clouds; once, on my way home, I saw a huge golden moon rise in a purple-blue evening sky. All this had nothing to do with the mostly pale, cloudy winter days in the place where I grew up – more than 1,500 north-eastern kilometres away; the sun would warm the face too much still, even though temperatures had fallen to 5 to 15 degrees during daytime.
Like that, indeed, nothing really fitted to evoke in me a Christmas feeling, except for LIDL, a German supermarket chain that caused in me a weird heart flickering when I discovered the shelves stocked with lebkuchen, marzipan, chocolate and Stollen – basically, all the typical Christmas goodies I could wish for. Then came the day I found an amazingly-cheap offer for flights from Bilbao to Munich. The moment I booked was when my aspirations to spend Christmas at home with my family materialized. Christmas was now just a flight away; I was practically there already, in the tiny village in the middle of an East German nowhere: A warm fire lit in the fireplace to keep the wet and cold outside; candles and Christmas incense mingling with the sweet smell of coffee, chocolate and Stollen. And then, but only put the day before the Holy Night on 24 December, there stands the Christmas tree in its dress of bright lights and shiny decorations, reaching from the floor to the ceiling, exuding the fresh smell of conifer forest. The sound that reaches my ears comes from the Christmas CDs and LPs we listen to every year: there are the funny songs like the one about a man who bought the smallest and ugliest Christmas tree out of compassion, and there are the more solemn ones that start with the sound of church bells. Everything is peaceful and familiar in my imagination: the one-home, one-family Christmas cliché got me lulled.
But of course – I am not there yet. And even once I am, I know that reality will look different from that kitschy, harmonious picture. Just take the Christmas tree: my Dad never allocates it without cursing – first it leaves needles all over the floor when we bring it in (which drives my Mum crazy); then it is always too big and too wide to fit in the space we make for it in the living room (which drives my Dad crazy); we never manage to collocate it in a perfect vertical sense… Then my sister and I struggle with the decoration of the tree (it always has too little or too much space between the branches for the decorations, and the light chain is too short every year), and while we mess up the area surrounding the tree with empty decoration boxes, my Mum runs late with the festive dinner in the kitchen. In the nervous tension to make everything perfect during the stressful Christmas countdown, all these details lead to the same frustrations every year.
But it’s not here yet. I am in Spain, and I will spend half of my Christmas holidays here. In contrast to Germany, where the Christmas atmosphere already vibrates from September onwards, here the shops won’t scream “IT’S CHRISTMAS!!! BUY!!!” to me until mid-November. The Christmas fairs lack the minus 5 degree cold and, as a consequence, they lack the hot German Glühwein beverage, too. The markets and streets don’t spread the winter fairyland atmosphere caused by thousands of soothing yellow lights that I know from my home in Germany. Instead, the colourful blinking light chains, the small sets showing the nativity scene decorated with glitter paper, and the stands with wigs for New Year will make it hard for me to get into a Christmas mood before I reach my family home house. Why is it so difficult, especially at Christmas, to accept and identify with traditions that are different from the ones I know? In the end, these things make the people here feel like Christmas… Maybe it is because my idea of Christmas at home is so strong?
And yet – even though Sankt Nikolaus will not fill the children’s shoes with candy on the night of 6 December, and although people here don’t light one more candle on the four candle pine wreath every Sunday before the Holy Night, and although the presents are brought by the Basque Olentzero, the Christ Child, the Three Kings or Father Christmas instead of Santa Claus – this type of Christmas will still be part of mine, somehow. Because while gazing at the decorated shop windows, eating hot chestnuts in the streets, and decorating the house as best as I possibly can with the resources at hand, the Christmas mood will surely come if I leave the door just a little bit open for it to sneak in.
If you liked Anne’s article, also read Take Action – A Common Graduation Ceremony for Euroculturers
Anne Kurzweg, Contributing Writer
Anne has a BA degree in Social Sciences and studied the MA Euroculture in Bilbao and Uppsala. Currently, she is an intern at the European Capital of Culture office in San Sebastian. Minority languages, cross-border cooperation and peace studies are some of her favorites, and she recently got absorbed by the idea of social transformation through civic participation… yes, she is one of those do-gooders.