I can hardly believe it’s November already – where did this year go? It’s moving so fast that I have started preparing for Christmas already. Now, I know that for most Americans it may come as a shock that I’ve waited so long – don’t you lot start in August? 😉
I was discussing the cultural differences of Christmas traditions with a Swiss neighbour recently, and I mentioned the fact that I have an aversion to the opulence of the average American household’s decorations. If an American came to Switzerland during Christmas, they’d probably think that the Swiss forgot to decorate! Outside lights (minimal and usually non-blinking, as not to disturb the neighbourhood), tree (minimally decorated, and in most households, it’s set up on Christmas Eve), advent wreath, advent calendar, done. Maybe a front door wreath, but not usually. Maybe a nativity set, but not always.
Most of our decorations are made by yours truly; with the exception of a wedding-year ceramic ornament, all other ornaments are either embossed tin, or crochet, or paper mache, though we do have a small set of glass ornaments, too. Our presents are not wrapped but put into reversible cloth gift bags that I made a few years ago because I disliked the waste of wrapping paper. And we’ve used the same silk tree for about 15 years; I didn’t like the environmental waste of chopping down a live tree for a couple weeks’ enjoyment, just to toss it out again. It looks like the real thing and is storable.
I do a LOT of upcycling crafts, and this past week I had a creative streak; our church will be having a creche display, and they asked me if I could have some items to sell when visitors come. I made dozens of tin ornaments, and have on hand a few dozen plarn bags to sell as well.
Besides such preparations, I’ve begun planning for our family Christmas dinner, which will be here this year, as requested by my nieces (they stay overnight, and take over the upper floor for a party). A few years ago, on a whim, I decided to make a traditional American Christmas dinner with turkey & co. (I would have gone for British, but couldn’t get a goose at the butcher’s or find Christmas crackers), and they wanted that once again. The first time I prepared it, I ordered the largest turkey I could get, which was 3 kg. (~6.5 lbs.); for 15 people, that was WAY too much!! But try as I might, I couldn’t find instructions anywhere online for such a small bird on American sites; the lowest end of their cooking time graphs started at 8-12 lbs. [An interesting note: IKEA had to make American dining tables much larger than they sell in Europe, and it’s mainly due to the load of food served at their holidays, including the size of the turkey; in fact, they had to supersize everything for America, from drinking glasses to chairs to sofas…]
I managed to get the turkey cooked in time, and I made notes for the next round. But in that process, I recognized many cultural differences between what I grew up with in America, and what I am used to, having lived in Europe for over 30 years: The simpler approach to the season of Christmas, not only in decorations but in the whole materialistic aspect. Here, it’s not about the biggest, the brightest, the loudest, or the most; it’s about family, friends, taking time with loved ones, and eating a nice meal that won’t break the bank or the scales! Our Christmas decorations and lights fit into 2 boxes; my mother recently told me about helping one woman decorate her home for Christmas; she had an entire walk-in closet filled with hundreds of decorative pillows, and her basement was lined with shelves for nothing but her seasonal decorations… mercy me – that woman’s collection could decorate dozens of Swiss homes. If that’s what makes someone enjoy Christmas, then so be it; but it’s not for me!
Some people dislike the fact that Christmas decorations and sale items have already appeared in stores here, but I don’t mind it this early – I can get my shopping done before the first of December (including advent calendar gifts, and Samichlaussäckli fillings [6 December]), and leave the last-minute panic up to others. If you haven’t begun preparations for the season, you might think about how you want to celebrate Christmas, and perhaps find ways to avoid stress or trying to keep up with the Joneses. In the meantime, I’ll share a few ideas for upcycling crafts and decorations – make it yourself and save money, spare the environment and natural resources, and enjoy the satisfaction of doing something with your hands! For more ideas, check out my Pinterest boards.