Merry Weihnachten: Mixing & Matching Cultures for Christmas

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By Ingrid Weilguny
Photo credit: Til Westermeyer

With Christmas around the corner, I’m starting to think of the most wonderful time of year here in Austria. Christmas markets, the smell of roasted chestnuts and honey almonds swirling around me, standing by a fire outdoors with a mug of mulled cider. Christmas cookies, gingerbread houses and real Christmas trees surrounded by family until the Christkind comes on Christmas Eve. I cannot think of a nicer time of year.

However, Christmas for me as a child was something different.

My mother would wake up early the day before to go to the fish market in Sydney to get the best seafood she could find. Christmas was always a relaxed day with a picnic, often sitting under the sprinkler as it was so hot. As I grew older, I didn’t even go home for Christmas as I lived too far away. Christmas was often spent with a group of people on a beach. With Santa Claus! 

For my children, weather aside, we try to capture the best of both cultures for my children. We write our letters to Santa in December (who is now high tech and will send your children a video back at Portable North Pole), decorate our tree early as a family and wait for both Santa and the Christkind.

As many multicultural families around the world can share, Christmas is one time of year when two cultures are often brought together:

SANDRA: “My mother was Belgium and my father English. We celebrated Saint Nikolas with a chocolate clog full of marzipan sweets on the 6th December – and Father Christmas with a stocking with small gifts left for us children on Christmas Eve – whilst we would leave carrots out for the Reindeer and a drink for Father Christmas…”

FRANNY: “I have an Italian father and an Australian mother. Christmas Eve was the Italian feast of fish and fried food with Christmas day being a traditional Australian Christmas dinner of Turkey and plum pudding. “Eating! That is all we seem to do at Christmas.”

ARY: “I also combine two different Christmas cultures. We have two family dinners. Spanish celebrate “Noche Buena” which means “Good Night” on December 24th with a big family feast, and then American Christmas dinner on December 25th. The children also receive presents on Dec 25th and Jan. 6th for Three Kings Day or the Feast of the Epiphany. We used to put out grass for the kings’ camels when they were little. It was fun celebrating both.”

BRANDI: “Christmas for us starts with St. Nikolaus which is celebrated in the evening with St. Nik shaking his keys against our door or ringing the doorbell and leaving bags of goodies on our doorstep. After this we go together as a family to pick out our tree, put it up and decorate it together, as well, a couple weeks before Christmas.
As the boys are bigger now, Christmas is just presents under the tree on the 24th but when the children were little we used to go to Oma’s house for Christmas. All the children were shooed out of the living room and into the kitchen to eat. One of the great aunts would quickly pull the tree out of the shut bedroom into the living room and place the Christkind’s gifts under it. We enjoyed a meal of gulasch and semmelknoedel and lots of cookies and sweets while the Christkind worked magic. On the 25th, Santa came to our house.”

LORENA: “With us it is tricky as we have three cultures: Austrian, American and Puerto Rican. Nikolaus comes first on the 5th of December. Then we decorate the tree. The Chriskind comes on the 24th, Santa Claus on the 25th and the Three Kings on the 6th January. The children gets lots of small presents spread out over the three days.”

How does your family mix and match your cultural traditions during the winter holidays?

immigration and stress bilingualsIngrid Weilguny is an Australian living in Austria with her three bilingual German/English girls. She has an MA in Applied Linguistics and an Med in TESOL. She works as an English as a Foreign Language teacher while working on a Masters in Journalism.

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