That’s at least what I thought. But it turned out that there are quite a lot of differences even in the most basic Christmas traditions. I was lucky to be able to spend last year’s Christmas with my friends and their families in California and I was really surprised about my American Christmas experience.
Christmas season begins…
To begin with, Christmas doesn’t start with an advent season. Good luck finding an advent wreath or even an advent calendar. Christmas time begins when Thanksgiving is over and after you’ve survived Black Friday horror. It seems like everything has switched to an “all Christmas format”. Radio and TV channels, shops which turn into little Christmas heavens overnight, simply everything. It’s impossible to pass a house which isn’t fully illuminated by lights, hundreds of reindeer figures, snowmen or Santa Clauses. Everything stands under the motto: the more the better, the brighter the better. It even becomes a thing or a nightly leisure activity to drive around, to go Christmas light sightseeing and to admire all the decorated houses. In the middle of December I got invited to an “ugly Christmas sweater” party. Ugly Christmas Sweater Party? Imagine a bad taste party, but you must wear the ugliest Christmas sweater you can possibly find. And by ugly I mean really ugly, like an illuminated, talking Santa on your boobs.
As Christmas came closer, we wanted to put up the Christmas tree. We turned on some Christmas music and lit the fire. But when I asked my friends when we would finally drive to buy a Christmas tree, they just answered: “yeah, we already have one in our garage.” I don’t know what I found more shocking. The fact that it was plastic or that it was white.
Christmas day itself
The 24th is generally a normal day. Like everywhere else in the world, everybody is trying desperately to find presents last minute. But instead of exchanging presents and having a three-course menu for dinner on Christmas Eve, I was proven wrong. You only get one present, which is usually a stocking (filled with little knick-knacks) handed out every year to hang under the chimney and a light meal.
25th: Since I missed the German Christmas dinner (back home) on December 24th – I was expecting a huge Christmas brunch the next day. But I was wrong – again. The whole house wakes up early in the morning only to rush into the living room to see what Santa Claus has left underneath the “Christmas tree”. And – since it’s America – he has left a lot. I´d never seen so many presents – even the dogs got wrapped presents. I guess the hanging sock was just an ambitious understatement because they couldn’t have possibly fit one single present in that sock. By one o’clock they were still unwrapping their presents and the only food we’d so far was one cinnamon roll two to five egg nogs, the delicious American version of egg liquor. My hopes for the big brunch were shrinking more and more. After the present handover, the cooking started. I was already starved by now and the egg nog wasn’t helping either. And then, finally the best part about Christmas started. The food. I was certain that after the amount of stuffed turkey, mashed potato and gravy and afterwards plum pudding, ginger bread and pumpkin pie I ate, I would never eat again.
Because like everything in the US, Christmas dinners are massive.
Text & Picture: Elisa Kirchmeier