This post was originally published a year ago. In 2019, three homeless people died of cold already in the greater Hamburg area. And I don’t feel like Christmas yet this year either, so I decided to run a re-edition today.
Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent. Are you in the mood for Christmas? I’m really not yet.
It feels as if the year passed extremely fast – again. And each year it seems to pass faster. That appears to have to do with the fact that one tends to experience less really new things as one ages, thus time gets compressed in one’s own perception. That’s another reason why I believe it’s very important to keep looking for new challenges.
But back to Christmas. I do usually enjoy the period of Advent quite a lot. And working in my old job, looking forward to Christmas motivated me through our grey and rather depressing November days. Now I don’t need this kind of a year end ‘highlight’ anymore. Maybe my non-existent pre-Christmas spirit’s got to do with that as well.
Christmas = Consumption?
We live in Hamburg (the second largest German city, located on the river Elbe, between the Northern and the Baltic Seas) and our city center is always decorated very tastefully in Advent. Yes, we do have the traditional German Christmas markets as well, of course. All very pretty. There are now at minimum three Christmas markets around the City Hall and the front of the Alster Lake, only a few steps apart from each other.
What I always notice is the amount of food stalls, that tend to pop up with any kind of event. Sure, fitting with the season there’s mulled wine. But apart from that I find lots of the food and drinks pretty much just more of the same-same.
When we attended an – admittedly very small ‚Christmas Market‘ on an old farm’s premises in our part of town, I really expected to find some artisan products. But apart from one stall selling caps, there was only food and drinks stalls. Even the totally incongruous burger bus among them. Why would you call that a Christmas market?
But that’s to everybody’s own taste of course. Loads of people love the Christmas markets, and there are crowds coming to Hamburg just for the express purpose of attending them.
Rich and poor
What really touched me when I was downtown last week: The sharp contrast between the prettily decorated streets and shops and the misery that the homeless and beggars represent. It’s very crass if you care to notice. My impression, however, is that a lot of people in shopping mood rather quite literally look away from the poverty on display.
Maybe they are resigned in face of the problem, or we’ve just gotten too used to this picture in our public spaces. Not every homeless person wants to be re-integrated into the ‘system’ either. But it really makes me feel shame that in a city as rich as mine people have to live and die in the street. An organisation I like to support in this context is Hinz&Kunzt, Hamburg’s street magazine.
But I also give independently. And I’ve ceased to think about or judge whether a person might have been able to live their life differently. In the subway last week, I got talking with a homeless woman who I guessed to be beyond retirement age. She stressed several times that surely nobody would go begging in subway trains voluntarily. And that she was committed to at least be clean and dressed properly, and not to go down further. Maybe I or you can make a small contribution for someone to be able to keep the last bit of their dignity at least.
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…
A week ago the weather was getting quite chilly but sunny at the same time. That would have been quite fitting for getting into pre-Christmas mood. We don’t often get snow early in December. But right now, it’s what’s known as typical northern-German ‘Schmuddelwetter’ with rain, which does’t provide too much of a homey feel.
In Hamburg, we’re sometimes lucky with getting a white Christmas. And we used to go skiing in the French Alps and the Dolomites frequently. Particularly in Southern Tyrolia I loved the mountain Christmas mood although I’m more of an ‘ocean person’ otherwise.
Too lazy to get new candles for our Advent wreath
Normally, we put our super-nice Advent wreath on our dining table at the first Sunday of Advent. It’s made of twigs and fir cones and only decorated with some modest glass crystals. That matches our rather minimalistic interior quite well. We only have to put new candles on each year. But for whatever reason my husband and I were both just too lazy and not in the mood for getting the candles last Saturday. Not the smartest move to wait till then anyway. There’s quite a tendency for the style and color we need to be sold out by the first Sunday of Advent.
Our Christmas crib from Provence
And the first Sunday of Advent is traditionally the day I put up our nativity scene, too. We don’t have a typical German Christmas crib, but I’ve taken over my mum’s tradition with a nativity scene from Provence.
In these nativity scenes, the Nativity story is being ‘staged’ in a village in Provence. You’ll not only find the traditional characters common in German Christmas cribs, such as Mary, Joseph, the Child, the shepherds etc.. The ‘Santons’ – that’s the name of the figurines that are used for the nativity scene – represent a host of local characters. For example the mayor, the baker, the miller, as well as young and old women shopping at the market, a blind man guided by his son, hunters and gypsies. The village houses and the barn can be bought. But their often hand-made as well. My mum was gifted the houses of her nativity scene by friends from Provence. My dad crafted the houses for my crib himself.
You will find Santons from different local artisans with long traditions. And they are cast in different sizes, they can be quite big. If you want to check out what they look like: My Santons are from Marcel Carbonel, size 2. My son loved our nativity scenes so much when he was a kid that he had my parents gift him some of his own Santons. We’ll see whether he’ll re-discover them when he’s got his own family.
Emotion follows form?
Well, so what am I going to do now with my non-existent pre-Christmas mood?
Maybe I’ll just put up our Advent wreath and our nativity scene next Sunday anyway. And maybe the right kind of mood will follow…
Like when you don’t really feel like going to a party – don’t those tend to be the best?
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