merry christmas / frohe weihnachten / veselé vánoce!

I am currently in the magical city of Prague celebrating with and enjoying the company of these gems:blogblog2blog3This Advent, and especially in the past week or so, I have learned in a very tangible way what it means to expectantly wait for something… something greatly anticipated that you just know is going to happen, but you just can’t figure out how you will make it to that point!

Advent is always like that, I suppose, but in the end, we know that Christmas will come, that Jesus was born, and (maybe, if we’re having a good day faith-wise), that He is here with us now. And of course we are surrounded by Christmas decorations, Santa’s at the mall, and even the most normal radio stations play Christmas songs from time to time, so it’s inescapable that Christmas will happen at some point.

This year, Advent led not only to Christmas, but also to my reunion with my family! I couldn’t speed that up by watching Home Alone or listening to Christmas music or going shopping a little early… I just had to wait! And even though I haven’t been homesick, per se, I was just so anxious to finally see everyone!

Anyway, I hope all of you are having a wonderful Christmas so far! Enjoy this song from one of my faves. It has a special meaning for me this year, though of course this song is a classic and you can’t quite go wrong!

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what’s been happening lately

So I have been terrible with keeping up with this, haven’t I? My apologies. Between trying to keep my head above water on my research (so to speak…), attending classes, making new friends, keeping up with old friends (I’m currently joining my best college friends in celebrating one very exciting engagement from afar!!!), and traveling, not to mention finding time to keep my room clean and go Christmas shopping, things have been a little crazy! 

The research is plugging along nicely. I finally have some leads on people to interview, and some of them have even responded to my e-mails (written in flawless German, naturally)! Here’s hoping for a fruitful January and February with lots of interesting conversations with legislators and city planners! Living the dream, I tell you.

The year is somehow winding down… how did it get to be December 16? It is madness. The German university calendar is a bit wacky in that the semester doesn’t end until February (or at least classes don’t end until February, and then the semester somehow officially ends at the end of March, except for the part where it doesn’t. Don’t get me started). Regardless, we get a nice little break starting after this week. I’ll be meeting my family in Prague a week from today… I am so excited!!

The Advent/Christmas season has been beautiful so far! I have enjoyed going to some of Dresden’s many Advent markets:

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Flitzi and I traveled to Jena to celebrate Thanksgiving, Part II:

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St. Nicholas’ feast day was on December 6. Traditionally this is a big day in Germany, as St. Nicholas was always the Santa Claus figure here, so his feast day was a big gift-giving holiday in addition to Christmas. But now there’s a pretty stark regional difference in that respect, as during the Communist regime here in East Germany, St. Nick was replaced with the secular, Santa-esque “Weihnachtsmann.” But as I’ve gotten plugged into the small, but lively, Catholic community here, I got to celebrate St. Nicholas not once but twice!

On the 6th, Agnes (I mean, St. Nicholas!) filled my shoes with some chocolate treats as per tradition. Then some friends of mine hosted a party in their apartment with lots of glühwein (hot spiced wine that is my new favorite thing! I can even make a pretty good batch of it myself). The next week, at our weekly Catholic center community evening, we had a belated Nikolaus celebration complete with a gift exchange in which the presents were distributed by the good Bishop himself! He was very witty, I must say. Lots of Glühwein was had, and we sang Christmas carols and enjoyed the musical talents of our fellow students. (I don’t have any pictures, sorry!)

This past weekend, I took a short day trip to two towns here in Saxony: Görlitz and Bautzen. My friend Domi organized the trip because he had visitors in town from his hometown of Budapest. It was freezing cold and I left my hat and gloves at home by mistake (a mistake I will not make again!) but it was a delightful day.

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We saw lots of old buildings and water towers and fortresses and the like, and a few stunning churches, as well. Görlitz is right on the border with Poland, so we walked over the bridge to another country! How cool!

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We got to Bautzen just before sunset and enjoyed beautiful views of the walled city at dusk, and then enjoyed some Glühwein at their Advent market. Are you sensing a theme? 

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My international friends are slowly departing for home before Christmas, and my German friends will soon start to leave, as well. I’ve been very blessed to be able to meet so many lovely people during my first 3 months here. (It’s now been exactly 3 months since I left Texas; how crazy!) I am absolutely loving my time here. I wish I had more time to update you guys on what’s happening, but I guess it’s good that I’m spending more time doing things rather than blogging about them! Don’t feel I’ve forgotten about you; I’d love to hear from you, too, by snail mail or e-mail or Facebook or whatever! 🙂 

a German thanksgiving

This post brought to you by a writing break I’m taking because the winds caused by Winter Storm Xaver are howling uncontrollably, preventing me from focusing on my actual work.

In the past, I have claimed proudly that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I don’t necessarily consider it that anymore… I’m not actually sure I have a favorite holiday… but I do have a soft spot in my heart for a day reserved for hanging out with many of my favorite people and eating many of my favorite foods (mashed potatoes are probably my very favorite food and I starkly prefer pie to cake).

But alas, Thanksgiving is an American holiday, and I wasn’t sure how I’d get to celebrate it this year, if I did at all. Some of my German friends had expressed an interest in doing something the day of Thanksgiving, and my thoughtful and generous Aunt Mary Beth even wired me a little Thanksgiving fund so I could at least treat myself to dinner somewhere. But due to some terrible judgement on my part, I have a class from 6:30 until 8 on Thursdays, which is especially cruel when you know that your family and friends are probably sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner as you learn about soil types.

However, as it turns out, non-Americans don’t know when Thanksgiving is supposed to be, so if all but two of your Thanksgiving guests don’t care that you are celebrating it on a Sunday, you just might be able to get away with it! So that’s what we did! The Sunday after Thanksgiving, which as you may recall was actually the first Sunday of Advent, which could take away Thanksgiving’s spotlight if you let it, we had an amazing Thanksgiving feast. For most of those in attendance it was their FIRST Thanksgiving! So that was pretty cool.

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Photo cred to Domi because I am too lazy to hook up my camera right now

Felicitas and I planned out the menu by deciding to cook the Thanksgiving non-negotiables ourselves and then ask everyone else to bring the side dishes. So I bought a bunch of turkey (I was not about to attempt my first ever real Thanksgiving turkey this year, so I bought some turkey breasts and turkey cutlets), Felicitas found cranberries for cranberry sauce and cranberry pie, as well as pumpkins for pumpkin soup and pumpkin cake, and I tried in vain to make gravy (it was disgusting and I did not serve it). We also made some improvisational vegetables to round out the meal.

(Actually, I should clarify that we did not make cranberry sauce–we made cranberry RELISH, a time-honored Swaintek/Lord family tradition that apparently came from a recipe on the back of a bag of Ocean Spray cranberries. But regardless, I insisted that we make it because it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it, and it was a huge hit. Everyone loved it and we barely had any left over to eat with the next-day turkey!)

Our guests brought salad, rice, sweet potatoes, dessert, and so much beer and wine! The person who had volunteered to bring potatoes had to cancel at the last minute, and since it was Sunday, we had a short panic that we wouldn’t be able to get our hands on any. But luckily a 365-day Lidl just opened at the train station and our wonderful British friend Nathaniel didn’t mind boiling them up for us! So we did have potatoes and all was well in the world.

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Even better than the food was the company. In addition to we two Americans, we had one Brit, one Hungarian, one Nigerian, and lots of Germans. Two of my friends have been au pairs in the US before, so they’d celebrated Thanksgiving at least once, but we answered lots of questions from inquiring minds wanting to know how we REALLY celebrate Thanksgiving in the States, why football is so important to the holiday (try coming up with an answer to that one…), and the origin of Thanksgiving.

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Like any good Thanksgiving celebration, we ate way too much, and then we waited awhile and we ate way too much dessert, and we talked and enjoyed each other’s company. This was the first time I’ve ever had to do dishes from Thanksgiving dinner and I’d just like to say “thank you!” to my mother and all the other wonderful people who normally DO have to clean up after the Turkey Day carnage. It’s 5 days later and I just finished washing everything.

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Felicitas and I are actually going to be celebrating Thanksgiving again tomorrow in Jena with Allie, who studied at Northwestern with Flitzi. But thankfully I won’t be the one cooking the turkey! We will, however, be making cranberry relish…. Flitzi bought six cartons of cranberries from Karstadt yesterday in anticipation!

how to be German

I just found this blog (and learned of the book that the author wrote as an expansion of the blog) and just had to share it! It’s called “How to be German in 20 steps,” and the book expands it to a total of 50 steps that, when undertaken, would prepare one for expat life in Germany. Some of the ones I’ve read so far are laughably accurate.

For instance: Step #1, put on your house shoes. Indeed, the first thing that my host dad told me upon entering my host family’s house the day I arrived, probably besides “Welcome!” or “Watch your step” was “Here are your house shoes.” Germans take their slippers super seriously. I don’t own any… I just wear socks… though actually I did buy a pair, but they were part of the unfortunate drugstore purchase that I left at the counter after paying.

Step #4: Get some insurances. Yes, this is the bane of every foreigner’s existence… the damned compulsory national insurance. ” If someone invented insurance insurance, an insurance against not having the right insurance, we’d all be treated to the sight of 80 million people dying of happiness.”

I have mixed feelings about Step #8, which deals with always obeying traffic signals at crosswalks… I do not always follow the rules, and neither do the many Germans around me, particularly at the one very tricky intersection near my apartment with a really long signal and times of the day when there are very few cars. Maybe it’s a Dresden thing.

I have had many Germans ask me how to say “Apfelschorle” in English, to which I reply… that Apfelschorle does not really exist anywhere except Germany, but when forced to describe it, I would probably say “carbonated apple juice”… But it is a fact, as #9 articulates, the Germans love their Apfelschorle and -schorle’s of every kind. “For more than a century Germans, smug with their discovery of fizzy water, all their abundant breweries producing fine beers and ales, they didn’t believe it could get any better. Then some bright spark tried adding a little apple juice to that fizzy water. Creating something equally refreshing, but 6 per cent more fun! It was a near riot.” Because nothing makes something more fun like percentages! 😉

#13, “Open a bottle of beer with anything but a bottle opener,” is absolutely accurate. We do own a bottle opener, which I freely and openly use, but I have seen Germans open beer bottles with zippers, pens, the edge of the table, and (yes) their teeth. Frightening.

I am slightly concerned with the author’s inability to count, as the article contains only 15 steps to becoming German, but my concern was relieved when I read a fight between two commenters about academic titles. Seems about right.