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Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Christmas for the Very First Time


This year, I celebrated Christmas in my own place with my wife and three daughters. It was the first time that I did this and I’m 41 years old. Wow.

What sounds a little bit weird is actually more due to the way we expats live.

When I left my parents’ house in 1990 to study 800km further south, I thought it was a temporary move. So like most of my friends I came back “home” for Christmas every year while I was studying.

Then I moved to France. Temporarily, of course, just to finish my Master of Science (MSc). I ended up getting married in France but it still felt temporary because we didn’t have our own place. Then we “temporarily” moved to the UK. And even though we had children, we still went to Hamburg for Christmas every year.

Like a lot of expats, we spend all our holidays visiting family because they are 820km and 1900km away. For us, this has always meant going to Algeria in the summer and to Germany around Christmas. Worked perfectly for about 10 years. But this year, everything changed: our third daughter was due in mid-November. We thought a trip to Hamburg so close after birth might be too much for us so we decided to stay in Manchester.

I have to admit that I had doubts. My wife has never done Christmas at all, so I was fully responsible for it for the first time. Would I be able to create the kind of atmosphere that I loved as a child? Would my children like it? How would the children deal with the differences between a German Christmas and what their friends do in the UK?

And, most importantly: where would I get real candles? In my family, we always used real candles on our Adventskranz and Christmas tree. Using electrical lights feels to me like drinking wine through a straw or maybe going to an expensive restaurant in a track suit.

In the UK, on the other hand, no one uses real candles. Only one single person knew what I was talking about, and she had only seen a tree with real candles at her grandma’s a very, very long time ago. They say it’s a health and safety issue, like power plugs in a bathroom. As a result, it is impossible to buy candle holders in the UK.

I don’t think it is actually illegal, more like shops won’t sell them because there is no demand. Also, I would guess the typical home insurance doesn’t cover “burned down house because of Christmas tree candles” so people stay away from it.

We were incredibly lucky. A friend saw an email on freegle from a woman just five miles away who wanted to give away some 50-year-old candle holders and candles. I picked them up just three hours before our “Bescherung” (when the presents are exchanged).

The nine candles in their ancient candle holders were the last things I put onto the Christmas tree. Then I sent the kids out and placed the presents under the tree as we do. The last thing was to light the candles. I was slightly nervous. Would they work? What if they didn’t? Would the tree look good with those old candles? It’s funny how the seemingly unimportant details become the one thing that makes it all work.

The candles did work and the tree looked good. The little ones liked their presents and I think the day felt special. It certainly did to me.

© 2011, Jan Petersen. All rights reserved.

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Jan, who is German, works mainly from home as a software engineer. His wife, who is Algerian, stays at home to look after their three girls aged 7, 4 and 1. They live in the U.K. and are raising their children multilingual in Arabic, French, German and English.

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  1. CommentsChristmas for the Very First Time | CookingPlanet   |  Wednesday, 05 January 2011 at 12:56 pm

    […] By Occasion : Christmas for the Very First Time […]

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