any excuse for a glass of eggnog

Don’t worry, I don’t really hope that your house burns down. But this postcard always gives me a chuckle come the holiday season. Especially as wrapping paper holds a special, dark place in my heart, right next to straws, plastic bags, and all the other disposables with which industrial civilization seems intent on choking itself. Buying anything that is meant to be used once and thrown away is a bad idea in my book. Not only is it a waste of money and resources, it’s pretty senseless garbage manufacture. I can grudgingly accept that, say, hospitals use some disposbales in the name of hygiene and create trash (though I’d be willing to bet that they could do just as well with far less of them). I cannot accept how much trash our culture creates for the sake of a good looking box.

Not to say that I am against good looking boxes—I happen to like those very much. But with a world already so full of excess paper, why buy wrapping paper? Something like newspaper or paper bag paper will work just as well, though neither are very pretty. When I need to wrap something, I turn to old maps—crates of which I have heaved out of trashcans over the years and squirreled away for just this purpose. They are colorful and aestetically pleasing, they are non-denominational, and, hell, you could use them to drive to Dallas after you finish unwrapping.

Christmas time is one of those times that—if I were to simply avoid the city for all of December—might completely pass me by. It’s not that I don’t like Christmas traditions persay (though I don’t like all the over-consumption in the name of a religious fest I don’t even believe in), but that other holidays are simply more meaningful to me. Birthdays for example. I like to go crazy for birthdays. The fact that the Beard was born means a lot more to me than the fact that Jesus was born does, tell you what.

At the same time December is well-timed for winter festivities. Things have been dark and gray and rainy for a while, and everybody could use a little pine- and booze-infused cheer. I would love to start a tradition of celebrating the solstice, but I always seem to forget when that is too.

Despite all my Christmas misgivings, we celebrate in a fashion as well. In Germany, Christmas Eve (December 24th) is when the magic happens, when you start feasting, and when the Christkind brings presents for the kids. This is then followed by the first and second holiday days, as they are called, when you can go visit other branches of your family or friends for further feasting. Seems like a nice system for avoiding the holiday scheduling stress that many of my American friends seem to face this time of year.

On Christmas Eve on the Wagenplatz whoever happens to be boycotting (or living too far away to attend) their own family gatherings gets together in the house to cook a big meal together. One year we even had a Christmas tree, pillaged from the Christmas market as it was closing down, decorated with red and black beer cans. But usually we limit the festivities to the food. This year there’ll be three roasts (one seitan, one venison, one beef), knödel, mushroom gravy, rotkraut, and Brussels sprouts. As well as an apple pie and cookies, depending on how motivated I am to bake tomorrow morning.

After the meal we all lay around moaning, and then do an “ugliest present” secret Santa type game. It goes like this: everyone looks around his/her Wagen for something impossibly ugly or tacky (or something he/she just doesn’t want anymore), wraps it up and brings it along. There are rounds and there is dice rolling and present stealing and general hilarity. Many of the presents end up in the trash afterwards, but the presents aren’t really the point.

The whole event involves no pressure and no stress. If you want to come, you do, and if you don’t, you don’t. Everybody makes part of the meal, so no one person is stuck doing all the work. And no one buys any presents. It’s all of the good parts of Christmas (good people, good food, relaxation) with none of the bad (stress, pressure, empty wallets).

On Christmas day (December 25) the Beard and I will open the stuff in the stockings that my mom knitted for us. We don’t really bother with Christmas presents as we’re constantly giving each other little things, all year long, but unwrapping a few trinkets and sweets (as well as the presents from my mom—the only person I always exchange Chrsitmas gifts with) is a fun way to start anyday, and a pleasant nod to the American Christmas traditions I enjoyed as a child.

So I suspect this is the moment when I tell you all, merry christmas, happy hanukkah, happy solstice, happy December, and, if the Mayans were right (ha!) happy beginning of the end of the world. Are you doing anything to celebrate?

0 Comments on “any excuse for a glass of eggnog

  1. Hahhaa happy beginning of the end of the world! It’s true though, no? Just like “as soon as you’re born you start dying” (so you might as well have a good time) (Cake)

  2. Ha! That just made me think of a quote from Fight Club. “Sure, in the Tibetan philosophy, Sylvia Plath sense of the word, we’re all dying.” Love that movie. At least that season’s greeting applies no matter what the state of the Mayans predictive abilities… Hahahahahahaha.

  3. Our xmas traditions mostly include eating a lot and making pizza with green dough. And drinking and playing Phase 10. All good things. We have been reusing the same wrapping paper for the past five years or so.

  4. I do an ugly present party with my friends the week before Christmas. Except instead of dice rolling we do trivia because we are one seriously nerdy bunch. I won a Nunzilla this year – a toy wind-up nun that shoots sparks out of its mouth. I made a Battlestar Galactica quilt from fabric scraps for the giveaway.

    Then all the family stuff happens Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and beyond. Lots of extended family, so the celebrations get seriously stretched out. We won’t do the running from place to place, and everyone knows it. One year, we hit 4 or 5 different family parties on Christmas Day, and the next year we stayed home. People could visit us, but we were not leaving the house. Message received, apparently.

  5. I took beautiful undies with me to Panama. I was still a traditional consumer when we left for Peace Corps and newly married. I thought I should have beautiful underwear. I remember hand washing my pretty paneled numbers and hanging them on the back porch line like some kind of Buddhist prayer flags offering their blessings to my adopted community.

    Two years in the jungle and the fancy undies were little more than rags; clean, but stained by mildew and dulled by hand washing in a cement sink with bleach.

    This Christmas I was thrilled to open a package of brightly patterned cloth diapers. My family has scaled gifting back to the practicle and homemade. My in-laws haven’t quite embraced this and I still get random items. I would have preferred more diapers. (I even went so far as to make an Amazon list to communicate in their style with baby things we will want on it. They completely ignored it as those items weren’t for “my personal enjoyment.”)

    Since I’m having a summer baby, I figure for the first months of life a cloth diaper will be all the clothing she needs. I look forward to washing and hanging them out to dry. I doubt my Midwestern community has ever seen prayer flags but these diapers will be my own blessings to my newest adopted countryside.

  6. I googled Rotkraut and man does that look yummy!!! I love cabbage! It might seem silly but I actually like getting the gift bags, it seems you can reuse and reuse and reuse, I think some have been running back and forth in our family for a couple years now lol!

  7. I remember when I was very small my family had a wood burning stove, and every year after opening presents, my dad would have my brother and I gather up all of the wrapping paper, remove all the tape we could find, and then twist it into “kindling sticks.” We had kindling for a good portion of the year after that, and even brought a box of the sticks with us when camping. These days, I wrap gifts up in furoshiki scarves.

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