Ok, so due to popular demand (admittedly, the fact that I can say that makes me giggle like a school girl), I’ve decided to take a break from my little “writing sabbatical” and send forth another blog entry, bound for the inter-webz (all of them). To be completely honest, I ummed, and I ahhed. And then realised I should really read my post-grad coursework introductory tutorial.
So here’s the next blog.
I was lucky enough to be in Berlin last year as Christmas rolled around. In Germany, Christmas is a really, really big deal.
One of the biggest hype inducers here is the Christmas tree. In Germany, fake Christmas trees out of boxes cower in shame. It’s authentic, fresh pine trees that rule the Christmas tree kingdom. The bigger, the better.
Traditionally, a family takes a trip down to the Christmas tree “park” or stall a few days before Christmas. They roam the park, meticulously inspecting and analysing each and every Christmas tree on offer, in an attempt to find “the one”. The trees, optimistically standing to attention and all spruced up, are slowly adopted one by one. Once chosen, they are snugly wrapped up with funny netting stuff, by a rather neat little machine.
Later, they embark on what will be the most important journey of their lives; delivery.
As the much anticipated tree arrives at it’s new home, shrieks of joy and laughter burst forth from little ones. And silent shrieks of dismay are kept, well, silent, by the slightly older one’s, whose job it then is to place this ceiling scraping monster upright, and get it to stay there (preferably at a 90 degree angle).
The tree is then decorated. Out come the ladders, the tree mats (to keep the tree comfy… or to catch the pine needles, still undecided), and a mountain of boxes, inside which the craziest Christmas related things you have ever seen sit and wait to be re-discovered.
Out come waist high, light up Santa’s (because every house needs a life size, light up Santa in their hallway), sparkly festive window display’s, and that wonderful carol singing wind-up thingy you were so sure you had finally gotten rid of last year.
Out come’s Rudolph and his five million friends, aquaintences, relatives, bells and whistles (excuse the pun). And out come the candles and candle holders. For the tree.
Yes. In Germany, electrical Christmas lights (fairy lights) on the tree are about as taboo as trees in a box. Here, real candles (with flames, that are made of real fire, that burns) are tentatively placed on top of the branches of the by now fully adorned (and highly flammable) 2.5 meter tall tree (which is made predominantly of wood, which is flammable). These candles are carefully positioned so as to avoid having their flames come into contact with the branches directly above these ridiculous fire hazards,… I mean pretty little candles. Then the candles, on the flammable tree (usually standing in a somewhat precarious position), on the flammable wooden floor, of the flammable apartment, on the second floor of the flammable apartment block, are lit. And all logic is replaced by a sense of mesmerization (real word, true story, I checked), while the tree twinkles like it’s nobody’s business.
But perhaps the most absurd part of the whole Christmas experience is what happens when the festive season ends. On January 12th, I realised that it’s not the three day meal and gift giving saga that steals the “absurdest part of Christmas in Germany” award. Nor is it the sunset at 3:30pm. And it isn’t spending insane amounts of money on a dead tree, only to lug it up 4 flights of stairs, look at it for the next 16 days, and then be rid of it either. No.
The most absurd part of the entire experience is, hands down, what happens with the previously celebrated tree. This beautiful part of the furniture, this extension of the family, is stripped naked (if it hasn’t already burnt down), dethroned… and is then tossed out the second or third story living room window. Yup. The window.
The idea of citizens known for being characteristically uptight and civilized (with the exception of two world wars) tossing this beloved, pricey, eight foot giant out of the window was just too much to digest. I had no choice but to put this notion down to my bosses sense of humor and my gullible nature.
Until I was leaving the apartment some time around mid-January with my little German charge. As I stepped out the building and onto the path, I heard a shout, followed by an unusually loud “swooshing” sound. I turned to my left, and low and behold, there was Oupa Mi (pronounced: Me) leaning out of his second story window, while his tree was in mid-flight and on it’s way down.
A split second later it landed, loudly. It then simply lay in a big solid heap on the ground, in front of the apartment building, looking rather forlorn.
My jaw, by this point, was on the floor right along with Oupa Mi’s Christmas tree. “Did anybody SEE that?!” my “what’s normal” internal barometer yelled.
Clearly, people had. Only their expressions showed no sign of witnessing this outrageous event. Neighbors nonchalantly glanced over their shoulders but didn’t raise and eyebrow. People walking their dogs politely stepped out of the southbound tree’s way and continued along with their business. And my charge, who had just witnessed my near “death by Christmas tree” experience, hadn’t even stopped walking, and by this point was already on the other side of the street.
By the end of the day, Oupa Mi’s tree had company. Naked Christmas trees of all shapes and sizes lay hopelessly on the ground in front of our apartment block, each waiting to meet their maker.
That, my friends, is decidedly the oddest Christmas ritual I’ve experienced thus far.
Generally, following this final life threatening festive tradition in Germany, the season is wrapped up (so to speak). The following few hours see the disappearance of all lights, decor, life size Santa’s and annoying carol singing wind-up-thingy’s, as they are packed up and buried in the basement, along with all the socially acceptable absurdities and crazy traditions of the past few days. And civilization and logic rule supreme once more.
At least, that is, until the next time they pull Rudolph and his friend’s out of the box.