Donde esta Santa Claus?

**David Taylor – German Foreign Correspondent**

I have a very romantic picture of Christmas in Germany: snow-topped log cabins, stockings hanging in front of an open fire, hot chocolate on tap. I thought the phenomenon of early Christmas hysteria was a purely British invention. It turns out that I was wrong.
However, this is no Argos-ridden, put-the-turkey-in-now madness that has become all too common in Britain. The German is known for his or her efficiency, and Weihnachten is no exception. I am writing this on the 15th of November, and as I speak the largest Christmas tree I have ever seen – away from the National Geographic – is standing and shining proudly in Osnabrück, a nearby town. This is of course in preparation for their Christmas market, starting in two weeks.
German Christmas Markets. Everywhere. I appreciate the lengths Birmingham (amongst others) goes to shamelessly copy our Germanic cousins, but to call anything in Britain a ‘German Christmas Market’ is like eating a Tesco’s Everyday Value Cake of Jaffa and putting it on par with an actual Jaffa Cake. The friendliness and cheer I have been greeted with during previous visits to Weihnachtsmärkte, not including the smells and sights that bombard your consciousness, have left an indelible impression on my opinion of Germany as a nation. Not to mention each market runs for four weeks, an entire month of sheer unadulterated frivolity.
If you visit this winter, take time to walk past the stalls selling almost sinfully delightful treats, the jolly fat men handing out Glühwein, and families and friends huddling together in the cold actually enjoying the frostbite, and you will see why I have decided to live here for a year. Come and visit now, because as the immortal Bing Crosby would say, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. And not a Christmas as we know it.

**Rosie Carr – Turkish Foreign Correspondent

With a population that is 99.8% nominally Muslim, and a miniscule and dwindling Greek and Armenian population, it’s no surprise that Turkey doesn’t do Christmas in quite the same way as her European neighbours.
In late October, however, they do do something called Kurban Bayrami, also known in Arabic speaking countries as ‘Eid’, or ‘The Feast of the Sacrifice’, which my Turkish friends explained to me as being ‘The Muslim Christmas’.
It’s a weeklong holiday celebrating Abraham’s submission to the will of God and the near sacrifice of his own son, just before which God intervened and commanded the killing of a Ram instead. Turkish people return home for a week of festivities with the family; shops and businesses shut, and many of the big cities like Istanbul become ghost towns. Both sexes go to the mosque, and the male head of the family commemorates by slaughtering a sheep (this is often done publically, in the street perhaps, or if one is available, a neighbour’s garden). Traditionally one third of the sheep is given to the poor, one third to the neighbour and one third is kept for the family, thereby affirming one of the key tenets of Islam: social responsibility. Money is given to the children and respect is paid to one’s elders.
Just like Christmas, the more devout complain that the holiday is becoming little more than a glorified vacation opportunity, with more families preferring to give money to charity instead of getting their hands literally bloodied; enthusiasm for the slaughter has not diminished, however, especially in the more traditional Eastern regions where, in true Old Testament style, the streets can literally flow with streams of sacrificial blood.

**Marisol Turne-Saona – Spanish Foreign Correspondent **

Forget Santa Claus. The main festive fictional character for Catalunya (and a few other regions) is el Tio de Nadal. Who is he? It’s actually a wooden log, with a face drawn on one of the sawn sides. From the 8th of December, Catalan children begin caring for their own Tio de Nadal in their house, by ‘feeding’ it leftovers. This is so that on Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) the Tio de Nadal will give them sweets rather than horrible things – a bit like how bad children get coal in their Christmas stocking.
On Noche Buena, parents take their children to a separate room to pray, and slip small gifts such as chocolate coins and nougat under the curve of the log whilst they are distracted. When the children return, they use sticks to whack the trunk lightly to help it ‘shit’, whilst singing the following, as translated:

_Poo log,
Almonds and nougat,
Don’t poo sardines,
That are too salty,
Poo nougat,
It is much better!
Poo log,
Almonds and nougat,
If you don’t want to poo
I’ll hit you with my stick!

The parents then lift up the blanket to reveal the presents that the trunk has ‘pooed’ for the children. The whole process is repeated a few times, until the trunk finally poos black coloured sugar – symbolizing it has finished.
And if watching little kids hit a log isn’t you’re thing, you can always meet one the Three Kings around Barcelona and give him your present wish list!
In Barcelona there is a market called Mercadilla de Santa Lucia, which caters to all your nativity scene accessory needs, but I ran out of words. Maybe you think it’s better than the guys that dress up as Kings and receive the kids’ notes, I don’t know.

**Katherine Price – German Foreign Correspondent

I had my little bubble burst upon my first conversation with Germans about German Christmas celebrations. In my ignorance, I was very much under the impression that, like us, everyone celebrated Christmas on December 25th. Oh no, dear Ausländer, here in Germany they celebrate on December 24th!
German families get together, have their Christmas dinner and open their presents on Christmas Eve, also known as ‘Heiligabend’ (or, the ‘holy evening’). Christmas Eve! Although turkey is also an option, more popular choices for Christmas dinner are duck, goose or carp (yes, carp), with the obligatory mountainous helpings of potatoes. It wouldn’t be Deutsch without potatoes. And yet, Christmas Eve isn’t even a public holiday here.
So what do they do on Christmas Day, you ask? They treat it like our Boxing Day: they sleep, they eat, and they watch Christmas television (probably the Tatort Christmas special, if there is one). And then they treat Boxing Day exactly the same way.
Christmas is a huge celebration in Germany, and that includes the build-up. Every town will have its own Christmas market – cities like Berlin will have around twenty, one for each district – with some as early as the first week of November. The markets are shamelessly elaborate, some even involving fairground rides and fake snow (or real, if you’re lucky). But the best thing is the food and drink.
German Christmas food and drink cannot be beaten. Keep it typisch Deutsch with stollen, germknödel or some lebkuchen, all washed down with a cup of glühwein to warm up your little red nose, as nobody warned you that, in certain parts of Germany, temperatures can drop to -20 degrees Celsius. Frohe Weihnachten!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.