holidays

Frohe Weihnachten und guten Rutsch

Hi everyone!

Wow. It’s been a long time (and not in the Boston “it’s been such a long time…” way; looking at it again, though, maybe).

Anyway, it’s fair enough to say that since getting back from Germany, blogging about anything (but especially Germany) has taken the backseat.

Still, I have hundreds of feather-light memories that I have time to get lost in everyone in a while, when someone shakes the snow globe of my life, and then I get pulled back to Germany and my life there. This has been happening a lot more during the Christmas season. As you may recall (if you’ve stuck with me through these quiet times!), I‘ve posted about Germany’s customs before.

This year, the semester didn’t really end for me until Dec. 18th, even though classes were out on Nov. 25th. Still, I’ve managed to get into the Christmas spirit a little with Advent every Sunday, baking cookies, going downtown Delray and looking at the 100 ft. tree, and getting Christmas cards out (yup. still do those).

I’m really excited about tomorrow, but more so about what happens after all the guests are gone (if you recall, Germans have two days of Christmas, so we have guests through Saturday) when it’s just me and my family again. I have a grad school application to submit by the 31st, which is the worst time for a deadline, if you ask me (though I could of course always have been more disciplined and already been done with it), but there’s also time for catching up on e-mails, Christmas letters (from the other dinosaurs who still do them) and lots of card playing.

I hope everyone was able to prepare enough for tomorrow that it’s a relaxing start into a glorious three day weekend, that there’s moments of peace in the festive atmosphere, and that everyone arrives healthy into the new year.

I also hope to figure out a new way to use this blog effectively, so that it’s not filling up unnecessary cyberspace for the next year, so please stay tuned!

Tschüß!- Dorothea

Easter in Germany

The first time I saw one, I thought someone missed Christmas, and wanted to relive the experience of hanging ornaments on a tree, even if there weren’t any green trees and it was early April.
Then I saw another, and another. Each time, the trees and their decorations (and number of ornaments) varied.

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This was the most heavily decorated tree I found. A little over the top, but pretty.

What am I talking about? The Easter egg tree of course! It’s called Ostereierbaum in German and the tradition for hanging mouth-blown eggs from the branches of trees and bushes is centuries old. Like many of the traditions around Easter, the rebirth of life (symbolized by the egg and the bare branches) is being celebrated.
For some reason, I really enjoy how the same holidays are celebrated in different ways in difference places. I saw it at Christmas, but since many of the Christmas traditions I know in the US (Christmas trees, wreaths, many songs) come from Germany, the differences were not so great. While the Easter Bunny also comes from the German Lutherans, I had never heard of the Ostereierbaum or the Osterfeuer before.

Osterfeuer am Elbstrand

Image from Hamburg.de

Apparently, it is also tradition to host a bonfire on the night before Easter. Called the Osterfeuer, it has pre-Christian origins, but its symbolism of chasing away the winter and rebirth as the ashes of the fire scatter over the fields and fertilize the earth made it an Easter tradition. In a religious sense, it is part of the closing of the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. However, in Hamburg, Berlin, and many other German cities, it is set up as a secular celebration for the citizens of the city to meet and enjoy a sense of community. In Hamburg alone, 7 separate fires were set up at different points all over the city, each with different audiences in mind. The main idea is that all the “bad spirits” that gathered in winter can be scared away.

In writing this, I realize how practical many of these celebrations are. All the traditions that are connected with holidays originated with a particular purpose. I think part of my fascination with seeing how others celebrate holidays has to do with the way it makes me look things up to understand more about their traditions, and mine, originated.

Bild Foto Osterkarte Osterhase Ostern Osterei KükenAt any rate, the last Easter tradition I wanted to write about is the Osterhase (in German, a Hase is a Hare, but in English we think of it as a bunny). In Germany, the hare plays much the same role as St. Nikolas or the Christkind at Christmas. The Hare determines whether children were good over Lent and whether they deserve the presents that the Hare has brought with him.

I found many representations of the Osterhase while here, and I had to remind myself every time that the idea was not that the rabbit look cute, rather, it had a serious role to perform and by virtue of being a hare, would not look as cuddly as a bunny.

Made me wonder if the English are a bit soft (just kidding!).

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The tradition of the chocolate Easter bunny originates with someone who took the idea of the Easter bunny and combined it with the tasty confection known as chocolate. I don’t know where it comes from , but it’s a reason to look forward to Easter every year.

This was my first Easter away from home, but there was enough to observe that I didn’t feel like I missed anything except the traditional lamb for dinner, and my family. It was good.

A German Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is considered a traditional U.S. American holiday. Es ist eine traditionelle U.S. Amerikanische Feiertag und wird jeden November am 4. Donnerstag gefeiert. Obwohl Thanksgiving ein Herbsterntefest ist , wie sie in vielen Kulturen gefunden werden kann, ist es besonders mit US-Kultur verbunden. O. Henry, the writer, called Thanksgiving the one holiday that is purely U.S. American, one on which one can expect anyone in the U.S. to be traveling for or hosting for. There are some problems with the origins of the holiday, as I’ve learned while getting older, but the celebration itself, other than how it’s taught in elementary schools, is removed from those origins  and for many people,Thanksgiving is a time of friends and family reunions… and about food. 

While writing, I had to remind myself that there are different experiences associated with Thanksgiving, For example, for some Native Americans the holiday represents something different than togetherness and is actually a day of mourning. Also, for many of the poor and homeless people living in the States, preparing the huge meal or spending the holiday with friends and family is difficult. But there are also many religious and service organizations who try to make celebrating the holiday possible with holiday meals and events.

Being away from my family this year, I didn’t expect to be celebrating the holiday. Aber dan… heute haben mich mehrere deutsche oder internationalle Studentin darueber angesprochen, und ich habe mich gefreut, als ich sagen konnte, ich werde es auch hier feiern. Ich war zum Thanksgiving Essen eingeladen. I didn’t know if I would be celebrating Thanksgiving this year, since it is the first time I’m not home, but my fellow VDAC American and I were graciously invited by another American in my area, and it turned out to be my first “real American Thanksgiving.”

Ever since I can remember, I’ve celebrated a German Thanksgiving. The only language spoken around the table was German because the guests were all Germans. Once or twice, there was an exception in the form of a U.S. American (other than my father) or a Polish lady, but they always also spoke German. This meant that while we were sitting in South Florida in temperatures too warm for late Fall and eating traditional southern Thanksgiving dishes (no one makes stuffing like my Papa), the atmosphere had a certain German aura that could not be dislodged. Perhaps it permeated because we don’t carry on any U.S. American traditions, like watching football afterwards, or just the euro-centered conversations that went on, but I never came back to school the following Monday the stories like my U.S. American classmates.

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This year, however, I picked up some wine and blackberry juice from the local grocery store, put on a dress and my nice boots with heels, and tried to get into the festive mood.

The place we were invited to was small (a typical student’s apartment) with not enough chairs and a table too small for all the good things that were to go on it… but that could of course happen in any Thanksgiving home. The guests also weren’t all American. There were us two VDAC students, the two US singer-students, a German student who will go to the US next year, a German one of the singers met on the S-Bahn once, a German whom the other singer had befriended, and another America who has been living and performing (Phantom of the Opera?!) for a year already in Hamburg. Our levels of German were acoustically scattered across the board, but it was the general consensus to speak English. Hence, my first American Thanksgiving. 🙂

Jill, our wonderful host, had prepared every single traditional dish. She said that she had been cooking since the night before, and I could believe it. I would have liked to have brought something too! But she had already said not to bring anything except ourselves and maybe something to drink.

It was a delightful evening with other guests coming and going, enough excellent food (green bean casserole, steamed carrots in honey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, and turkey) to go up for three helpings, and just good atmosphere and company.

Jokes were made and politics were discussed (and then quickly topics were changed), much laughing was done, and we went around and every got to say what they were thankful for (this took a while to get everyone settled down for, since as was pointed out by various guests, it is also Thanksgiving custom to interrupt or start side-conversations). When it was my turn, I could only say how thankful I was to be there and celebrating Thanksgiving. I am also thankful to be in Germany and able to complete my MA while abroad. I have experienced so many great things as a citizen of Hamburg. My list of all the things I’ve been able to see and do gets longer each day. The last thing I said I was grateful for was technology, since without programs like MagicJack, Skype, or FaceTime, I would not be able to communicate with my family and friends to the extent that I do. Being able to talk with them and see them has made being away from them (and not getting their hugs) more bearable.

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excuse the fact that I cut Jill out; I did not know if she would want her picture on the interwebs. But look at all the great food!!!

All in all, this Thanksgiving provides me with a wonderful memory that I’ll be able to look back at with fondness. It was such a sweet experience to create a little bubble of America in the room like that.

So it was a surprise when it was after midnight and I was reminded that I had class the next day. In the States, no one would have to worry about being ready for Friday (unless one was a horrible Black-Friday shopper :p). The question of transportation home also became an issue since, while public transportation in Hamburg does run longer on holidays, Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday for the Germans.

But it worked out, since another guest and I (this guest happens to be the German VDAC student who is going to the U.S. through the exchange program next year) both needed to leave “earlier” than the others and left together. We had a nice walk through Hamburg-Altona to the bus station (there are night buses, even when the subways/strassenbahne don’t run), and she convinced me to go a little out of our way to see the Altona Hafen at night.

I am glad we did.

It was a magical ending to a beautiful evening. I’m starting to think Thanksgiving is always good if there’s some German involved somehow.

A surprisingly relevant article I found: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/nov/27/celebrating-thanksgiving-american-student-abroad

Another article I found is for English-as-a-foreign-language speakers:  http://learningenglish.voanews.com/content/american-celebrate-thanksgiving/2529775.html

Martinstag

Last week, Halloween. This week, St. Martin’s Day!

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Oh no, I’m a horrible photographer, I know. I just wanted to get an image of the different lights all together as the people were walking.

I am currently attending a DaF (German as a Foreign Language) class that uses as its content discussions of what is typically German (typisch Deutsch). At one point during the second class meeting, my professor asked the class what aspects of life we consider to be part of culture, and my answer was “Feste und Feiertagen [festivities and holidays].” My professor didn’t add this to the list on the board because he considered my answer to belong to “traditions.” But for me, festivities and holidays of a nation belong to traditions just as much as food does, and food got written down, so I am respectfully annoyed at Mr. Prof. Dr.

But that aside, I recognize the holidays and festivities of a nation as helping to define the culture of that nation since culture includes shared values and beliefs, and the holidays and festivities of a nation celebrate those values and beliefs. Often, these beliefs are religiously connected. In many nations in the world, the religions are more homogeneous than in the US, so these holiday seasons seem even more festive in places like, for example, Germany. However, this is a bit complicated in the U.S. that tries to be inclusive for all the different people and beliefs living within its borders. Yet, an entire nation having the 4th of July off, for example, is a collective experience that praegts the collective attitude of what that day represents. This is of course again a bit complicated when one considers Thanksgiving. It’s a holiday that has been celebrated since the U.S. Civil War as a way to bring divided people together. However, it is tainted by it’s colonial origins… and it’s a day of mourning for a few groups in the U.S. while celebrated by many others.

I’m not here to talk about Thanksgiving though, since I’m in Germany and won’t be celebrating that holiday with my family this year (sad face).

But I did get to participate in a traditional German holiday (albeit celebrated a few days early, since it involves little children who shouldn’t be up too late on a school night).

Most people know what St. Nicholas day is, celebrated on the 6th of December,since St. Nick is known world-wide for his charity and for being the precursor to the modern day Santa Claus. In Germany, a lesser known charitable saint is celebrated in early November by a reenactment and a procession with homemade lanterns.

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St. Martin’s Tag.

These images are from the St. Martinszug that I was invited to witness (and be part of!). The Martinszug is one of several rites to celebrate the Saint’s work, which were explained to me in a skit put on by several classmates of the girl whose parents invited me to the Zug. I had the girl on my shoulders for most of the skit, so I couldn’t really follow it, but I think the main idea was that he was charitable.

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St. Martin’s Day is on November 11th. Mostly celebrated in Old Bavaria and Austria (and apparently also in Hamburg), it is the memorial day of St. Martin of Tours. He is remembered in Central Europe by numerous rites including the the Martinszug, the St. Martin’s goose dinner, and Martin singing.

In the celebration put on by the Grundschule (elementary school) my friend’s daughter attends, there was the singing, the Zug (with a rider in a large white cape on a live horse, a torch procession and many small children with lanterns), and the goose dinner that consisted of large goose shaped cookies that were cut in half to ensure that there were enough for all the kids. The girl (who also had me hold her lantern a few times throughout the evening) ate her cookie half before I could get a photo- so sorry, no photo of half goose cookie.

But I did get a lot of photos of the beautiful lanterns, some bought, most homemade, and I had my first cup of Gluhwein (delicious warm, spiced wine). I also froze my butt off since it was in the low 30s and I still have my Florida mentality…

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What was Hello Kitty doing here? The highlight of my evening, maybe.

It was a pleasure to be part of! And now I feel like I’ve gotten a good dose of authentic German culture (sans Hello Kitty lantern… though, if we want to get into a discussion of culture, culture changes so…wait, I wanted to end this post, not start that discussion).

Cheers.