By Cynthia Drack
Oh…. Christmas time! I love you so much.
The joy of warm summery weather, large amounts of seafood, finishing work for the Christmas/New Year period, trying to get last minute shopping done, preparing Christmas lunch, decorating the tree on the first weekend of December, catching up for Christmas drinks with friends and secretly wrapping gifts before anyone notices. Rush, rush, rush. Heart beat racing; on an adrenaline high. Exhausted, but happy.
Oh, wait! STOP! That is Christmas in Melbourne. That is NOT how Christmas is in Munich. Well, not quite.
After living in Melbourne for most of my life, and being very accustomed to late night shopping, fresh seafood and wearing a summer dress to Christmas lunch, I was battling with the fact that Christmas was a cold, grey, dark time of year. No late night shopping experiences after work, no fresh seafood, and not a lot of sunlight.
Traditionally, Christmas is the biggest and most looked forward to celebration in Australia and in our family. So being in Munich, without my parents and my brother and his family, was a shock. Calling on FaceTime was not the same; it was hard to be festive online, thousands of miles away. Sigh!
Having Christmas in Europe is different, and every family has their own traditions. Initially, dealing with the stubborn German/Austrian parents-in-laws was a hurdle I had to get over. I just did everything they requested: the “good little daughter-in-law”. They celebrate on Christmas Eve, their way. A huge meal (of no seafood), you get dressed up, and then the Christkind comes just after dinner with a ring of a bell. Who on Earth is the Christkind? A bell- like for cows? Ummm… ok. So I had to investigate that whole Christkind tradition.
The first few years, my mother-in-law wanted us to celebrate at her place in Austria. So we drove up Christmas Eve, unloaded our stuff, got ready for church, and were ready and waiting for dinner at 6:15pm on the dot. We were all exhausted. We decorated the tree and waited for the bell to ring, which meant present delivery. Why did the Christkind bring presents? Although my in-laws are fairly relaxed about a lot of things, these steps were fairly important. So I went with the jive.
So we waited, and waited, and waited. ‘Where on Earth is the Christkind?’ I said to my husband, in anticipation. And that was the exact point: the build up. Anyway, he did come and it was a big ‘woo ha,’ and the kids were thrilled.
The following day, we slowly woke up, I prepared the milk and cookies for Santa to arrive and lo and behold, the kids weren’t very excited. They were exhausted from the night before. Their Christmas was over, and mine had yet to begin. No Christmas meal for lunch, just leftovers and a very slow and miserable (to me) Christmas Day. I was disappointed and wanted to go home and celebrate the ‘right’ way.
So, for the last twelve years, I have made it my mission to find real, authentic joy in Christmas, to make it my own, and to incorporate both the German and Australian traditions.
I spoke to my in-laws about having Christmas Eve at our place. I realised I was not that enthusiastic about their way of celebrating because I had nothing to do with the preparations. So we had a big family discussion. It was not easy. They have their ideas, and that was that. I said that although I appreciated the effort, I would like to combine the two cultures and make it our own unique experience. They were still not happy. So I sat there, staring out the window, vaguely listening to what they had to say. It shouldn’t be this hard, I remembered thinking. It’s Christmas! It should be about joy, love, and all that.
That was like an epiphany. What do my in-laws love above all else? My kids. Their soft spot. So I gathered my thoughts as quickly as I could, told them they were right and that Christmas was lovely their way, but for the kids sake, health wise and to reduce stress on the road, we would like to celebrate in Munich the following year. They begrudgingly agreed.
So the following year, my tree was up on the First Advent with a few presents underneath it. Win for me! My mother-in-law arrived two days before Christmas Eve to help shop and prepare. I had to let that go. It was my space, but the tradition was becoming “ours” and I decided to embrace it. We cooked and baked from 7am on Christmas Eve, and I let her take the lead. Everything was perfect. She wanted it that way and so did I. We went to church, ate dinner at our scheduled time of 6:15pm, waited for the Christkind to bring more presents and sang our traditional Christmas songs. The kids and I prepared for Santa with cookies and milk. All went smoothly.
The following day, my mother-in-law and I woke up really early, filled the Christmas stockings, (which she secretly loved) and prepared a big Christmas brunch. My father-in-law surprised me with fresh oysters (don’t know where he got those from) and a fresh water salmon. My hubby put on the BBQ, because that’s what we Aussies do, and we continued to eat well into the afternoon. The kids were happy, we parents were grateful, and my in-laws continued to be festive all day.
Christmas has evolved a little since that first Christmas in Munich, and I have truly made it my own, with everyone’s ideas and values to boot. At the end of the day, it’s about being together, the food you eat, and sharing each other’s love and laughter. And really, that’s all that matters.
Cynthia Drack is an art educator and artist. She channelled what she learnt through her work with artists, graphic artists, illustrators, technologists and child care centers into a love of teaching art in a non traditional format: Little Picassos Schwabing. She holds a Bachelor in Business (Marketing) and a Bachelor in Arts (Psychology) and uses her knowledge of psychology and her expertise in visual communication to allow children to nurture their love for art and art making.