There are many ways of making the Advent season meaningful. In our society where the holiday season for children often means a big case of the “gimmies”, how can we celebrate in a way that brings meaning to the season? Or rather uncovers the meaning already present.
In the coming weeks we will be writing a series of posts called December traditions. This article in the series is about celebrating Advent and Christmas German Style.
Our family, an interesting patchwork, has three nationalities among it with five different countries of birth. The children identify with their countries of birth, so the flag of the country is an important symbol in our home. If had ever wanted to design it like this, it would have never worked. So nature just threw us this patchwork.
When December comes around, the celebrations of the parents’ cultures seem to take over though.
Advent is a deeply celebrated tradition in German culture. Without an advent calendar and an advent wreath, the Christmas season cannot be celebrated properly. This year, I created a modern and simple wreath without any greens, since we will be in Germany to celebrate the second half of the advent, where my mother-in-law always has a beautiful green wreath with red candles.
The creation of this year’s wreath took some glass star decorations and some clear glass marbles that my daughter and I spread over a glass plate around 4 candles. The 4 candles are lit one-by-one each Sunday of the advent period leading up to Christmas. This year the first candle was lit on December 2 by our first-born.
Another tradition we have is the advent calendar for the kids. Our advent calendar starts each year on December 1 (even though advent might start as early as 27 November, or as late as 3 December). A few years back, when we just arrived in Kenya, I created a re-usable advent calendar for the children by sewing some small stocking shapes out of 3 different kangas, clipped to a ribbon with a numbered wooden peg. Each little stocking has room for a small gift or chocolate and by opening a stocking each day we are counting down to Christmas Eve. We do only have half a calendar here in Nairobi this year as the other half will await the children when they get to Germany, prepared by their grandparents.
Near the end of advent, on 22 or 23 December, the Christmas tree is decorated. This is a true family event where we all work together, grandparents, parents and kids to decorate the tree. My husband’s family insists on using real candles on the tree, which will be lit on Christmas eve, for a most beautiful effect.
On Christmas Eve the gift giving celebration takes place. Family gifts are appear quietly under the tree as soon as it has been decorated, and to top it off, Father Christmas also leaves a few gifts for the children in the early evening. Under the candle light of the tree, we open the gifts one-by-one with each family member taking part in the enjoyment of one of us opening a package. After this, we share a lovely late dinner and later on light up the candles on the tree one more time. The next two days of Christmas (25 and 26 December) a lot of time is spend with family. We visit, walk and talk amongst ourselves to spend the goodness of the season with each other with only a few days left before we welcome yet another year into our lives.
Our children are growing up celebrating rich traditions of their root cultural backgrounds. I believe that it is important for them to be aware of these traditions as they help them in establishing their own cultural identity in this interdependent world. I also think and hope that they pick up some new traditions, or modifications, by the time that they are parents themselves, but I am looking forward to sitting with them under the Christmas tree in 30 years with them saying ‘this tradition always meant home to us’.