It’s not warm and it’s not cold and it’s not pleasant. It’s damp. The leaves are old and yellow, bright yellow at this point. They contrast starkly with the gray of the bark, the gray of the sky, the gray of the damp dirt ground. These are the kinds of days in November that trick you. They are ugly but yet there is something magical about them. They come with comfort after the surprise of autumn has worn off; this is the second phase, this is the realization that winter is coming. But you’ve made it to November and threads of the holidays creep in. Happiness comes from plans for the holidays, concoctions in the kitchen, preparations of the colder days to come. Yes, there have been hard frosts and bitter rainy days, but the short respite that comes in these transition days is much welcomed. There’s a slight mist that hangs around the bare branches, making the moisture in the air visible, giving the air that distinct autumnal scent.
The sun sets behind the mask of gray clouds later in the day and the breeze picks up; the air borders on the feeling of snow, but not quite yet. Things like the Hallelujah Chorus increase the festive color of the day, changing the bits of sour gray attitude into positive and hopeful ones for the coming holidays.
In the states you have to think about Thanksgiving before you can prepare for Christmas. There is always the question of, “Is it too early to listen to ‘Santa Baby’?” and there is always a different answer, “After Halloween,” challenged by the common rule of thumb, “No! Never before Thanksgiving!” Outside of the U.S., it goes from fall to Christmas; no other country has a politically complicated and questionably correct holiday where natives and pilgrims sup together. I choose to use the time to be thankful for all the things life has given me, especially family. But this year I won’t be with my family for this special day. Our program is hosting an American Thanksgiving buffet so we will still have food, community, friends, and a celebration, but it will be different.
As the Germans move on from their rather new observation of Halloween, Christmas is in the air already. Yes, it is already in the States too, but there are still those paper turkeys, the leftover candy corn, and the paper napkins with fall leaves that linger in the large bins at the grocery store. Hearing a Christmas song coming from a neighbor, seeing the rows and rows of Christmas bread (Stollen) and the chocolate Santas is what are next on the agenda here and I rather like it. It gives me direct permission to listen to The Nutcracker, The Messiah, and other more “ambiguously holiday” pieces of music that prepare and excite me for the coming festivities.
As much as I love Thanksgiving and any reason not to have class, not observing it traditionally here has made me notice how it’s a holiday we just trip over. There never seems to be enough time between Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, and as a student, they are the worst two weeks of the year. Once you’re done with Thanksgiving it’s the mad dash to Christmas with cards, presents, plans, food shopping, worrying, family, and the looming end of the year. There are so many wonderful things about (both) the holidays, but they get lost in it all. My mother is famous for saying her favorite holiday is Thanksgiving because there isn’t the same ordeal for it as there is for Christmas, and I agree; however, without Thanksgiving, maybe it means that there isn’t an ordeal for Christmas.
Coming into this holiday season, I am excited to observe the German approach. In addition, I am spending Christmas in Sweden with one of my best friends who is abroad in Paris, so I will see the Swedish approach too. For New Years, or “Sylvester” as it is known as here, don’t ask why, we are going to Vienna and will be able to see the holiday culture on the other side. All aspects of this coming holiday season are different and I look forward to celebrating a time that is normally robed in traditions and family in a different fashion.