Culture Shock #5: It’s (Unapologetically) Christmastime

Americans know better than to wish each other a Merry Christmas. Issue it with the best of intentions, and you’re likely to receive a lecture on political correctness. Holiday decorations have to be kept to generic winter themes, and even the traditional red, green, and white is often tweaked for inclusivity. Not everyone celebrates Christmas. Which is true, in America. But in Germany? Ah, homogeny.

I walked into my office in the first week of December to find not only a Christmas tree bedecked in the agency colors, but an Adventskranz, or wreath, in place of our weekly flowers and an interactive Adventskalendar, which raffled off prizes during every weekday in Advent. Advent wreaths are all over the city of Hamburg, in front of banks, city buildings, schools, and shops alike. It startled me a little to see such a flagrant show of celebration: the last time I saw an Advent wreath in public was when I was in Catholic school.

Christianity is the most popular religion in Germany, with about 67% identifying either as Roman Catholic or Protestant, so the prevalence of Advent memorabilia makes perfect sense. But on the whole, I’ve found Germany to be not as “in your face” about their religious habits (or, conversely, lack thereof) as other countries. For sure, not every German celebrates Christmas in the traditional sense, with church services and the religious hoopla—which is, of course, the reason for the season. Many of my German friends are not religious, but appreciate Christmas on a nostalgic or aesthetic level. In other words, it’s possible for the season to hold the reason at a pretty fair distance.

As someone who celebrates Christmas (or at least, doesn’t not celebrate Christmas), it’s hard for me to tell if this one-dimensional winter holidaymaking actually makes others feel excluded or is some form of incorrectness, the way we are so conditioned to believe in the States. Those who want to celebrate differently are, as far as I can see, welcomed to do so—there have been a few Menorahs around town as well. I really like that it’s possible to decorate or celebrate how you feel fit without feeling like anyone is pushing the “prepare for the birth of Jesus” narrative at you, or feeling that Christmas is a war that needs to be “won” or “lost”.

Rather, I think here, the society is better at understanding that sometimes, a beautifully decorated candle wreath in December is simply something that reminds you to reflect on the passing of the year. Or just makes your dining room look good.

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