Friday, 3 January 2014

The Chronicles of Christmas: The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Christmas

The Chronicles of Christmas:
The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Christmas

With Christmas quickly approaching, Eva and I made our way to Klagenfurt to visit the rest of the family. It was a long 4 hour bus trip but the scenic drive through the snowy alps made it all worthwhile. And I was actually able to see the landscape unlike my last trip through the alps where I had to squint through layers of that was definitely a bonus!

Now I realize that I have mentioned my love for Christmas so many times that I have become a bit of a broken record, but there are only a couple posts left of the Christmas Chronicles so just bare with me. 

As you know, Christmas is a universal holiday that started out as a Christian celebration over the birth of Jesus Christ. While the religious connotations are still heavily implied for some people, over the years it has become more of a commercial and materialistic celebration. Don't worry I am not going to lecture everyone about the 'true meaning' of Christmas blah, blah, blah, as that is not my style....and I would be a huge hypocrite if I did.

The truth is, I am not against the whole "commercialization of Christmas", in fact I totally support it. Now before you start throwing crucifixes at my face and sending me copies of the Holy Bible (and Grandma if you are reading this...sorry!), I need to clarify myself first. The reason why commercialization has been a good thing is that it has now become a Universal holiday that everyone can celebrate, regardless of their religious beliefs.

I think that any holiday that gives you an excuse to have over-the-top and sometimes awkward family reunions while you indulge in food and drink, sounds like a perfect cause for celebration if you ask me. Throughout the year we all begin to drift farther and farther apart from our families as we become more consumed with our own life problems, and Christmas is the perfect time to reestablish your bond with your family and friends. It also puts a little perspective into your life which is never a bad thing.

Yeah family gatherings can be awkward...watching Uncle Rob do his impression of the chicken dance while singing Christmas carols next to your Aunt Mabel who is knocking back a few too many cups of egg nog as she has a stimulating conversation with the ornate couch cushion next to her...yeah that is definitely cringe worthy, I feel you.

And the family photos can be the worst! Hiding from those relatives (we all have them don't lie) that insist on taking pictures at the worst possible moments can be a bit of a let down I can relate. But not all family gatherings have to be bad! In fact, you can make them extra fun if you want.

For example, use it as an excuse to start your own drinking game and get completely wasted.

Example Drinking Game to be used at awkward family gatherings
  1. Drink every time there is an awkward silence
  2. Take a shot every time someone breaks an awkward silence to talk about the weather
  3. Drink every time someone asks you about your future plans
  4. Take a shot every time someone says thats what I wanted to do when I was younger after you discuss your future plans (maybe that's just my family....)
  5. 2 shots for every pair of socks you receive as a present
  6. 1 shot every time you see someone hoarding the food table (usually this is me...)
  7. Drink any time someone asks to take a picture
  8. 2 shots for every story that is retold even though you have heard it 100 times already and have it practically memorized
  9. 3 shots every time your lack of a love life has been brought up (if you have one...then screw you...)
  10. Drink every time you are compared to a superior sibling or hear the words why can't you be more like (insert name here)
  11. 1 shot every time someone remarks on how much you've grown/how tall you've gotten
  12. Down your drink if someone makes a comment on your breasts, bosom, lady lumps, cantaloupes (any other word that is used to replace boobs).

Those are just some examples to get you started off and I encourage you to add your own for whatever applies to your personal awkward family moments. In no time you will be sufficiently drunk enough to survive another awkward family gathering...and hopefully not remember it the next day!

If drinking is not your personal way of getting out of awkward situations then I commend you for being brave enough to bare the awkwardness without the aid of alcohol. Unfortunately, I am not as strong as you are. But regardless if you want to drink or not, you shouldn't have to be excused from the fun as well. During family photos just stuff your face with food and act obnoxious (it's their fault for taking photos at inopportune moments anyway) or throw bits of paper into your Aunt Mabels quiff while she is busy enchanting the couch cushions. Immature? Maybe...but who cares? It's freaking hilarious!

Gift giving is another reason I love Christmas. It's not just about receiving gifts, it's about giving. I can't tell you how happy it makes me to watch someone open their gift and see the look on their face when they realize what it is. I love going out of my way to find the perfect gift for someone, whether it is a inside joke to make them laugh, something I know that they will love - or better - something homemade that comes straight from the heart.

Homemade gifts are the best! Knowing that someone took time out of their busy life to make something just for me is such an amazing feeling. You feel so special and significant. Take for example this year; my mom made me this glorious quilt from scratch and she put black & white pictures of successful female actresses. She even put a couple of pictures of me in there with them! It was such a thoughtful gift and I know she worked really hard to make it which made it all the more special. And the handwritten letter that accompanied the gift was almost as good as the gift itself (I have a huge soft spot for handwritten letters!).

Joke gifts are also amazing. One of my favourite gifts was from my best mate Tina. One year she got me a personalized shirt with boobs on the front and Pirky Pirker written on the back (her HILARIOUS nickname for me). Did I ever where it out in public? Hell no! I don't need any added attention on my breasts...or lack there of. But it was a gift that made me smile...and with the matching purple frilly bloomers it was classic!

So the next time you go out gift shopping, take some time and really think about getting/making the perfect gift. Remember that time is much more valuable than money (although sometimes money doesn't hurt :P) but in the end, the thought is all that really matters!

Christmas in Austria

Every year since I was born I have spent Christmas with my immediate family back in Canada. This year was the first time that I spent it away from home and to be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect. It's not as if I was homesick or anything, I mean I do miss my family but not enough to come home early from my European Adventure. Sorry guys! Also it would be way too expensive to get a flight home for the holidays and since I am not made of money, I didn't really have a choice in the matter.

But staying in Europe was not without it's benefits. For starters, I was able to spend Christmas with my Austrian relatives and experience a traditional Austrian Christmas. And since I am always up for trying something new, I was excited for the opportunity. I think it was just the initial fear of change that was making me a little nervous.

Sometimes we become comfortable in our own little norms that when something gets altered we feel a bit off balance. The best thing to do in these situations is just roll with it.

I find that the best part of traveling and trying new things is the unknown. It can equally excite you and terrify you. You never know what is going to happen and this is why keeping an open mind is the best way to make the most of your trip!  Having no expectations opens up all kinds of doors to exciting adventures :)

Bring On The Festivities!

Back home in Canada, it's a surefire sign that the Christmas season has started when the pockets get hung. They are like giant Advent Calendars where you get a treat every day until Christmas and we have used them every year since we were old enough to walk, talk and eat excessive amounts of candy.

Most people just buy the pre-made Advent Calendars from the grocery store that give you tiny squares of chocolate every day leading up to Christmas, but my family is special. My mother handmade all of our pockets and every night the "pocket fairy" would come and bring us a special treat for the next day. The best part is that we never know what to expect as our treat. If we are lucky it is a Kinder Surprise Egg (it's guaranteed to be a good day when that happens) or if we are not so lucky there are the unfortunate incidents that occurred one year in the form of nasty distasteful lollies. But most times they are amazing sweets.

I was a little sad to miss out on that family tradition...but then I remembered how the "pocket fairy" (*cough* Mom *cough*) kept forgetting to do her job in later years and I think there was talk of her heading into early retirement so I guess it wasn't a huge loss.

But when our pockets got hung, it was usually an excuse to bring out the rest of the Christmas decorations from the basement, clear away the cobwebs and start unloading them one by one. We would hang the lights up outside, put up the Christmas wreath outside the door and wrap tinsel and garland around the banisters.

In Austria, there wasn't a huge emphasis on Christmas least in the houses. The Christkindlmarkts were completely decked out in tinsel, holly and lights but inside people were more reserved. My uncle brought out a homemade nativity scene but other than that it was pretty scarce leading up to Christmas which really surprised me. I think that North American culture is a bit more commercialized in regards to Christmas than other places, but when it comes down to it...I am not terribly surprised.

Since my cousins were getting a real tree, we didn't go tree hunting until a couple of days before Christmas to make sure that the tree would still be healthy for the night of.

Tree hunting is my favourite. When I was little we used to have an artificial tree but this was mostly due to the fact that we had a cat. A cat that had a habit for eating the pine needles and then preceding to puke up hair balls all over the floor. Also real trees caused way too much of mess when our cat continuously knocked it over.

But real trees are way better than crappy fake trees. Nothing beats the search for the perfect tree as you comb through rows and rows of them to find the perfect one. And let's not forget the smell of fresh pine! Mmm :)

After we found the perfect tree we took a trip into Patergassen to see my Oma and Opa. Now I mentioned how it's not Christmas without an awkward family reunion, and let me tell you these were in no shortage this year. The only difference between the usual awkward family gatherings that I'm used to (see above) and this one was the giant elephant in the room: the language barrier.

While there were plenty of awkward moments throughout my entire trip (most caused by my own stupidity if we're honest), the worst was when I visited my Oma and Opa.

Like most of my Austrian relatives, I haven't seen them since I was a youngin' but this time around I didn't have my dad to translate for me or my mom/sister/brother to keep me company through the awkwardness. No I was alone in my own discomfort.

I have never felt so stupid and helpless in a situation where I can't speak for myself. I couldn't contribute to any conversation, let alone follow any of the ones that were happening in front of me. The most I could do was preoccupy myself with something, and in this case it happened to be me stuffing my face with food. So yeah, that's a great impression that I left with them!

Everyone felt really bad that they couldn't help me out and it's obviously no ones fault that this happened but I just wish I had some knowledge of German to at least tell them I loved them and missed them. Now before you scold me on not attempting to learn German I will let you know that I have tried multiple times and failed miserably. I even bought a fast talk German handbook to help me out but it got to a point where I was ready to jump off the nearest cliff as it wasn't going so well. Then my cousin reassured me with this quote, which has now become one of my favourites:

"Life is too short to learn German" - Oscar Wilde,

Let's just say I didn't feel so bad for myself after that haha :)

Even though it was sufficiently awkward, I don't regret going. Family is really important to me and I am glad I got the chance to visit everyone (or at least the relatives that could make it) at least once during my stay :) Hopefully next time my German repertoire will be a bit more advanced (although this is highly unlikely).

Christmas Day

Now before I go any further I need to clarify something; Austria and Canada celebrate Christmas on two different days. In Austria, Christmas is celebrated on the 24th of December (our Christmas Eve) whereas in Canada it is celebrated on the 25th.

So where in Canada I would be getting ready to head out to our family friends house to join in on their annual Christmas Eve party, this year I was celebrating a traditional Christmas in Austria.

Christmas Tree Decorations

In Canada my family usually puts up our Christmas tree decorations while we unload the rest of the Christmas decorations. It's a time of family bonding where we unwrap all the old christmas trimmings, trade memories and laugh at our hideously school-made ornaments (okay mine were always amazing and these were usually my brothers). Every year my brother tries to put his grotesque ordaments in the front of the tree and as soon as his back is turned we transfer them all to back so that they are hidden out of sight!

In Austria my cousins didn't decorate the tree until the day of and instead of the tinsel, garland and ornaments we use to adorn the tree back home, they just use candles to light it. Not fake candle look-a-likes...nope, real flammable candles. Yeah this wouldn't work so well back home, especially if we still had our cat. The house would be in flames on the very same day we light it!

Christmas Dinner

In Canada we would usually have a massive turkey dinner with stuffing, cranberries and the works (my FAVOURITE meal ever!).

In Austria we had something called Raclette. When serving Raclette a hotplate is put in the centre of the table surrounded by raw meat and vegetables, to which you cook right at the table. Then you place your potatoes covered in cheese in the slider located under the hot plate and wait for the cheese to completely melt into the potatoes. Then you eat the meat, cheese, potatoes and vegetable with hummus/garlic dip and bread, and it is absolutely delicious.

My Aunt and Uncle were nice enough to make their own version of a turkey dinner on the 25th just for me which was such a nice surprise! Seeing as I missed both celebrations where we make Turkey back at home (Thanksgiving and Christmas), it was nice to have it at least once as turkey isn't really popular back in the United Kingdom.

Christmas Traditions

In Canada we lay out milk and cookies by the fireplace for Santa on Christmas Eve (as well as a carrot for the reindeer) and on Christmas day we wake up to presents under the tree and the remnants of Santa's late night snack left on the plate.

In Austria Santa Clause isn't the bringer of gifts but rather a baby angel (cherub) named Christkindl (also known as the Christkind or Christ child). At around 7pm the tree is lit for the first time and we all gather around to sing Silent Night and other Christmas Carols, and after the children go to bed, Christkindl comes to bring the gifts. The children sit by their windows and watch the sky to see if they can find Christkindl's star. Apparently, the story says that a star shines in the sky and then vanishes (signalling that Christkindl is in their house) and then a small bell is rung signalling the angels exit. The Christkind is not supposed to be seen as it is believed that children won't get gifts if they go looking for the Christkind. Nice trick parents! ;) When the bell is heard ringing, the children are allowed to come out of their rooms to open the gifts that Christkindl brought. It was such a sweet story and a nice new tradition to take part in!

So as you can see my Christmas was definitely different that I was used to, but it was special all the same. It was nice to be surrounded by all my loving family even though I was away from home :)

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and I encourage you all to switch it up every now and then. While old traditions are a classic, sometimes adding new traditions makes the holidays more exciting!

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