Christmas Back To Front And Upside Down – #CIJParty 2017

Guest Blog Contributor post by Jessica of GusandOllie

The things that come to mind when I think about Christmas are pretty different these days. I feel Christmas for me now, is how it looked in Christmas movies and on Christmas cards growing up. That winter wonderland the everyone else seemed to be talking about, except those of us in the Southern hemisphere.

Growing up in Melbourne, Australia, my Christmas memories consist of hot Summer nights, where I had to kick off the doona on my bed. Playing outside after our evening bath, in our shorty pyjamas, never wanting to come to inside. Dusk light until late, the sound of cicada’s, the smell of eucalyptus and browsing the toy shop catalogue for my Christmas wish list.

Christmas was all about sunscreen, Summer holidays, the end of school for the year and looking forward to heading down to the beach. Father Christmas would arrive the night of December 24th, but would find an ice cold beer waiting for him, instead of milk.

Christmas day began at the crack of dawn. Sometimes the sun beat us up, when we would rush to the Christmas tree, eye all the presents, then drag our poor parents out of bed. Mum would put the Christmas album on the record player, Dad was in charge of building anything that required assembling.
We almost always received a new Summer outfit, which I would promptly put on and wear for the rest of the day – if I wasn’t in the pool. Backyard cricket, totem tennis and any other outdoor activity is what we did all day, unless summoned to the dinner table. I remember the year I received a hot pink skateboard and I didn’t come inside until it was dark.

The idea of Summer and Christmas seems to mesh perfectly for Australians. To be able to cook your meat on the BBQ, have a swim, relax in the sun with some Summer reading and have a family cricket match, where Uncle Sam always bowls out one of the little kids, just seems so normal for us. 

The fact that Santa always wore big black boots and a big red suit and drove a sleigh, never seemed extraordinary to us, because we always knew the North Pole was a cold place. It never really occurred to me to question what he’d do, once he hit our 40°C climate and had to lug our presents down everyone’s chimneys. Maybe the thought of a cold beer waiting for him, was enough for us to think he’d be fine.

Nowadays, is a little different. I have been living in the beautiful city of Hamburg for nearly 10 years and Christmas here is not only completely opposite, back to front and upside down from what I’m used to, but the entire month of December is dedicated to Christmas, which I love.

Germany’s Christmas Markets start on the last weekend in November and run right up until Christmas Eve. As the days get shorter, darker and colder here, the number of fairy lights seem to increase. Lanterns are hung from all the trees and ornamental light symbols hang from the street lamps.

The smells of gingerbread, hot crêpes and Glühwein (hot mulled wine) flood into every corner of our neighbourhood. It’s almost impossible to walk home without stopping to enjoy one or the other, because the smell is intoxicating.

The markets are everywhere. They fill almost every little plaza, square and hof (courtyard) and are brimming with warm winter treats, Christmas lights and candles, pine trees and typical German Christmas ornaments made from glass or wood. Friends, families and colleagues meet after work – every day – for a drink before heading home, to touch base and warm up at the same time. It’s on the way home for everyone, so why not?

When you’re an expat living abroad, sometimes the holiday season can get get you down. The thought of being so far away from your family, the Christmas dinner with all the trimmings you’re used to and the feeling of losing that time with loved ones.

But, the blessings we gain here are a new culture, new traditions, new stories to tell and an amazing group of friends, who invite you into their homes for Christmas, because they have become your family. Quite often those friends are far away from home too, so Christmas turns into a celebration of different cultures, different foodie delights and always a barrel of laughs. It’s different, but it’s still wonderful.

Until I moved here, it never really occurred to me just how unique this experience is. Just as some Aussie kids have never seen snow, the idea of Christmas on the beach is a mystery to many here and we love sharing our stories and traditions here. I find myself continually grateful to have experienced both sides of this coin, which come with their own advantages and disadvantages.

To find myself now celebrating in the dark, drinking hot wine and staying indoors to play board games with fantastic friends, is a little different from playing cricket and swimming at the beach with family. But we are lucky enough to get the best of both worlds, as we try to fly home every January so we can enjoy Christmas in the dark with our kitty cat and firm friends, but then New Years on a hot Summer night at the beach with family back home.

I’m pretty happy to have Christmas upside down and back to front, either way.

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Celebrating Christmas With A German Tradition

Our lovely Teammate Carola is a native from Germany.  Her family moved to California more than 12 years ago. Today, she will share with us her family tradition for this special holiday season. Please sit back and enjoy her story!

Blue December Snowmen Holiday Card from CarolaBartz

Blue December Snowmen Holiday Card from CarolaBartz

“In Germany we celebrate the time of Advent. Most families have an advent wreath, and each Advent Sunday one more candle gets lit until there are four candles on the 4th of Advent.


We also use much of our Christmas decoration during Advent. The little choir singers and the other advent decoration [are] a very traditional decoration. They are made in the Eastern part of Germany , they are all handmade.



The little black choir singers (Kurrendesänger) have been in my family since the early 60’s. We received them when the East was the GDR, and as you can see from the little cracks they were very loved. The cinnamon stars are a traditional and popular Christmas cookie in Germany ; my daughter and I still bake them every Christmas.


[In Germany,] our “big day” is not Christmas Day (and we even have two of them!) but Christmas Eve – Heilig Abend (Holy Eve) as it is called. It usually starts out hectic, often with the last big shopping, because all of the stores and supermarkets will be closed for the following two days. But around 2:00pm the shops (including the grocery stores) close and by 3:00pm at the latest a magical silence covers the entire country like a beautiful veil.

The ideal December 24th brings snow in the afternoon and turns the world into a winter wonderland by the time the first church bells start to ring. On Christmas Eve all the bells are ringing, from the smallest, highest pitch to the biggest one with the deepest, loudest sound.

It’s a concert of bells that resounds through the silence, calling for mass. Christmas services start in the later afternoon, the first ones mainly for smaller children, showing nativity plays and involving the kids. Later in the evening follow the more “grown-up” services with meaningful sermons and the old German Christmas carols sung by the congregation. Everybody knows these songs and since the churches are always packed on Christmas Eve it is a strong and joyful singing.

After church it’s back home – and waiting for Christkind (Christ Child). Yes – it often is not Santa coming through the chimney (there are not that many houses with a fireplace anyway) but Christkind.

Santa Ornament with Vintage Inspired Image from CarolaBartz

Santa Ornament with Vintage Inspired Image from CarolaBartz

When I was a child I always envisioned Christkind with golden curly hair and a flowing white dress, an angelic smile on its face. It would place the presents in “die gute Stube” (“the good room” = living room) and magically disappear, unseen by anyone. The children are called in and they stand in awe looking at the Christmas tree – that was brought in and decorated only the day before (or even in the morning) and very often carries real candles on its branches. I have always loved the real candles, it smells differently and the whole atmosphere is – yes, magical. After singing a few Christmas carols everybody opens their presents accompanied by Christmas music on the radio.

And if you’re still awake or missed the afternoon/evening service you can go to midnight mass – always my favorite Christmas service. A huge tree is lit (some with real candles – we live dangerously in Germany!), the atmosphere is festive and peaceful. ”

It is our “Silent Night, Holy Night”.

Christmas Card Set of 7 - Bethlehem from CarolaBartz

Christmas Card Set of 7 – Bethlehem from CarolaBartz

Many thanks to Carola from Carola Bartz for sharing her family’s Christmas tradition with us! It’s always fun to learn how our favorite holiday is celebrated in other parts of the world. Such a delightful tradition and a story to share with the little ones as well.

Please send some love to our fellow teammie and visit Carola’s shop at :