In London, where I'm from, the advent of Christmas is marked by frenzy. Tinsel gleams in shopping malls, lights flash, and pale turkeys line supermarket refrigerators waiting to be roasted. Everyone panics.
But in Germany, where I now live, Christmas is a quieter affair. I've spent the last few holiday seasons in a small Bavarian village, surrounded by the solemn Alps and hushed blankets of snow. It's not just the setting, however. The Germans do Christmas differently. Teutonic traditions create a softer, simpler, and calmer atmosphere.
So why not take the stress out of Christmas this year by doing it the German way? Here's how.
1. Start early and be über-organized.
The Germans mark the coming of Christmas four weeks in advance by lighting the first of four candles on an Advent wreath. A typical German Advent wreath is made of ivy and has red candles. An additional candle is lit each week until Christmas Eve, when the final flame is lit along with the others.
It's a lovely way of tracking the countdown to Christmas, so you don't end up in a last-minute panic. Many tasks, such as the baking of plätzchen — traditional German cookies — are done way ahead of Christmas Eve.
2. Put your feet up on Christmas Day.
Christmas Day is for rest. In Germany, the main day of celebration is Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day. A typical Christmas Eve consists of decorating the tree, having a family dinner, gift-giving, and finally going to church for midnight mass. So on Christmas Day, you can just sit back, relax, and eat leftovers!
3. Toss the turkey! Make a simple meal.
To make things even better, a traditional Chrismas Eve meal is a simple affair. My German husband's family typically opts for raclette on Christmas Eve, which does not require much in the way of cooking, since everything is heated on the grill in the middle of the table. It also means that people can pick and choose whatever ingredients they would like to eat, so you don't stress yourself out by trying to cater to everyone's particular tastes and dietary requirements.
Other Christmas Eve meal options include roast goose or duck (so no need to fight over turkey!) with dumplings and red cabbage, sausages, and potato salad; or fondue, fish, or even pizza!
4. Don't go overboard with decorations.
In addition to a simple meal, the Germans also keep their Christmas decorations simple. They tend not to dress up their houses with colorful lights or reindeer figures, or use tinsel or flashy LEDs. Decorations are very traditional. Often, German households use the same red and gold baubles and wooden figures that they have been decorating their trees with for years.
Some households still use real candles on their trees, although this is a fire hazard. Newer electric lights that look like candles are more commonly used and produce that same warm, soft glow. In fact, candles are widely used, for example, with Christmas pyramids — a pretty decoration that is nonetheless not noisy.
5. Drink punch!
But let's face it — no matter what you do, Christmas can still be stressful. After all, the season requires families spending extended amounts of time together, with sibling squabbles, cantankerous aunts, disapproving in-laws, and embarrassing grandparents. So the final tip to surviving Christmas in a stress-free way is to have plenty of glüwein or punch at hand!
Find your own punch tradition: 12 Nogs, Punches & Libations to Celebrate the Holiday Season