Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oh, Christmastime Is Coming

Oh, I'm positive that Christmastime is in the air!  Want to know why? 

We had flurries of snow!  In Georgia!  In mid-December!

Yes, you have to look very closely to see them, but they are totally there.  It's the one picture on which a few specks of snow dust showed up; it stopped about two seconds after I got out on the balcony to take these.  Exciting!

And it inspired me to get my butt moving on Christmas decorations!  The boyfriend and I have both been so miserably sick that we haven't done anything Christmasy at all except for finishing our last 15-page papers as part of the end-of-semester finals thing.  But first let me explain about Christmas and me.

All right.  I'm an absolute atheist in the sense that I tried very, very hard when I was younger to believe in something, anything--my sister believed in the Greek gods at one point--and it did not work.  Nothing worked.  We had a serious forage into Judaism, because of ancestors who came here in, I think, 1907 from Austria, and I was the kid who sat in services with a little notebook and tried to learn Hebrew from the prayer book--but at some point I had to realize that I was kidding myself.  I like this world, and I do not consider it unfair that I only have a short stint on it.  

Clearly, this should mean that Christmas is a bit of an idiotic thing to celebrate, being the Christian way of trying to get rid of pagan festivities.  But, you see, I also come from Germany, and they do Christmas very, very well.  So for me, this time of year is much more about tradition than anything else.  Seriously, we had some old-school Christmases when I was younger.  My grandparents had actual white candles on their tree, and my grandfather had a gorgeously intricate Nativity scene he made himself.  

You celebrate on the evening of the 24th, and during the entire month of December, Christmas markets spring up in just about every town.  Artisans show up to sell gorgeous wood carvings, leatherwork, amazing candles (my father has a stunning handmade candle that looks like a surprisingly lifelike cobra), and, of course, Bratwurst inside a Kaiser roll (or occasionally on a small cardboard plate with curry sauce) and Glühwein, which is mulled wine with spices.  My father always put up our tree while my mother and her friends played in an orchestra in one of the multiple beautiful old churches around Mainz or Wiesbaden, and we would watch.

Traditional German sweets around this time are Lebkuchen, which are plain, glazed, or chocolate-covered gingerbread rounds about 1/2" high and the size of your palm, and Stollen, which is a (surprisingly vegan!) marzipan fruitcake covered in powdered sugar.  Surprisingly, I found them this winter at Trader Joe's, and my mother and I have pretty much cleaned them out.

But another thing that you do is celebrate the four weeks of Advent with an Advent wreath along with the calendar.  The wreath has four candles, and every Sunday you light another one until all four are lit.  In Germany, you can buy these with the candles, which sit on candleholders with spikes in them to hold the candles, but here I made do with a bronze plate and a wreath I decorated with glitzy stuff, pinecones, and holly.  It makes me happy, and it smells like vanilla.  =)

Another thing my mother, sister, and I used to do was to make our own tree decorations,  Thankfully, I have grown out of the age during which I made strands out of threaded popcorn and made colored paper chains, but the love of the pretty tradition of making gilded walnut ornaments is, I have discovered, still beating strongly in my heart.  

As many whole walnuts as you like
Short knife you do not particularly care about
Gold and silver spraypaint
Hot glue
A few yards of thread; try finding gold or silver
Wire coat hanger

Put a Christmas movie in the DVD player and curl up with a short knife, whole walnuts, and a plastic grocery bag.  The base of the walnut will usually have a small hole you can wiggle the knife in and out of until the two halves pop apart.  This step may take some practice.

With the knife, scoop out the insides and let fall into the plastic bag.  Set aside, but make sure you keep the walnut halves together; finding the two that fit together perfectly is not very easy if you have dumped them all into a heap.

Heat the hot glue gun and cut the thread into lengths about 6"-8" long.  Fold the thread lengths in half and set aside.  Run a thin line of glue along the edge of one walnut half, press a length of thread into the pointy top of the walnut half, and press the other half on top.  Set aside to dry.  Repeat until all the walnuts are glued.

Take the wire hanger and unhook so you can slide the walnut strings onto the hanger.  I used fifty walnuts, and slid twenty onto the hanger at a time.  Hook the two ends of the hanger back together.  This is an absolutely bootleg way to save time.  Take the hanger outside, and, making sure the nuts are not touching, spray paint either gold or silver.  Hang up somewhere outside (I used a planter) and let dry for 20-30 minutes, or until completely dry.  Repeat with the second color.


Results:  gold and silver walnut ornaments!  I left a few plain, because I think they're pretty, too, but do as you think best!  When I go home to see my mother, these will go on the tree there.  =)
Merry Christmas!

What are your favorite holiday crafts?  Or just holiday traditions in general?