|Our Weihnachtsbaum in the Wintergarten|
When I was growing up, Christmas Eve was always the big celebration with extended family. My aunts, uncles, and cousins came from the Appleton and Minneapolis areas to my grandparents' home in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and my parents, brother and I lived also in Sheboygan. There were 15 of us. I remember always starting, after everyone had arrived, with cheese and crackers and shrimp cocktail while final preparations were made in the kitchen. My grandfather said a lengthy, heartfelt prayer, and then we consumed a delicious dinner of ham (sometimes turkey) and a billion sides, salad, and several desserts. After dinner we had at the pile of presents under the tree, which ended up being somewhat of a rip-tear-"Thank you!" fest, but we paused every time someone came to a present with an attached poem. My grandparents were into writing cutesy rhyming poems for the special gifts, and they were usually funny or clever. After the carnage of gift opening was over, the wrapping paper was stuffed into garbage bags, ribbons, bows, and gift tags were put back in the box to be used the next year, and our presents were placed in neat piles, we headed off to church. After church the Appleton crew usually drove home and the Minneapolis contingent bunkered down to rest up for the 6-hour Christmas Day drive home.
I have lots of fond memories of family Christmases, which were often loud, full of energy (and definitely full of love), stressful at times, and truly special. It worked out nicely to have the extended family celebration on Christmas Eve, and then our private family Christmas was the next morning as soon as my brother and I could will our parents out of bed.
Our celebrations here in Germany are quite different, mainly because we are always a small group and there is absolutely no hustle, bustle, schedule, or stress. This year we have the fewest people ever - just my daughter, M, and I are celebrating together. My Schwiegermutter is spending Christmas with her daughter and her family this year in northern Germany, but she'll be back with us for Silvester (New Year's Eve).
This is how we're doing our quiet little Christmas Eve:
This morning I walked to the butcher to pick up our €100 order that will get us through 'til next Monday: soup meat & bones, beef tenderloin, pork tenderloin, ground beef & pork, leg of lamb (for Irish stew), and sausage meat (for Maultaschen and sausage rolls).
Then M started the beef soup for tonight's Fondue, which will boil on the stove for several hours. We usually do fondue on Silvester and Raclette on Heiligabend, but my daughter likes fondue better and she'll be back in the U.S. by Silvester.
While my daughter tended the soup M and I drove to the bakery at Norma to see if they had any fresh baguette and rolls left, and we were pleased to find that they did and weren't even busy! Mental note for next year: no need to buy the bakery the day before!
Our tree is up but not decorated yet (another difference to the way we did things in America - the tree went up at the end of November), so we'll do that next. M puts on the lights, and we girls will hang the ornaments under M's watchful scowl. He prefers just the traditional Weihnachtskugeln (Christmas balls, I like to call them), but I brought all my ornaments from the States - dogs, stars, mini picture frames, apples, sheep... and I love the wooden ornaments I keep buying at Weihnachtsmärkte.
Next M will make my daughter's favorite part of the fondue dinner - Sahnedip. This stuff goes on everything - fresh veggies, bread, meat, and sometimes just on the spoon. It's not exactly low-fat, but it's delicious! It's best to make this early because it has to sit for a bit to let the tastes blend.
I'm thinking about introducing the cartoon version of the Grinch who stole Christmas as a possible alternative.
After our Christmas movie we'll
After dinner we'll have our Bescherung (gift opening), which we do slowly as well, one at a time. Following that we'll listen to David Sedaris's narration of the Dutch St. Nick tradition, which we've heard many times but it still makes us laugh like crazy people.
And that's it. We usually finish the evening browsing new books (Christmas in our family isn't Christmas without new books), and perhaps watching a little TV or a new movie if it's early enough.
Tomorrow we'll have another quiet and relaxing day. My daughter and I are planning to make Maultaschen from scratch, M will make sausage rolls, and we'll have Lamb Stew for dinner.