Wednesday, December 8, 2010

White Christmas

My dad raised me on all sorts of Christmas music. When I was a child we listened to Christmas music by everyone from Tony Bennett to *NSYNC. But, Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" is by far my favorite. There's something about it--maybe that it sounds like it's coming out of an old, shiny wood radio--that transports me to a different time.

I can hear the laughter of children playing in the street. I can smell the fresh cookies (not made from a roll of dough bought in the supermarket refrigerator) coming out of the oven. I can see a family decorating its tree through frosted windowpanes. Of course, they have those big lights strung all across the tree and the children have thrown the tinsel on haphazardly. I can feel joy and love, everywhere.

In this world, there is no Black Friday, no Tickle Me Elmo. Christmas is a family holiday made to give love and get love. Not presents. Sharing smiles, hugs, kisses while Mr. Crosby sings...this is Christmas.

Now, there is something distinctly American sounding about Mr. Crosby's rendition of this holiday classic. When I listen to it, my pictures are of an American family in the 1950s, not a German or a French one. But, this time of year Germany embodies the same spirit that the song calls to mind. That's what I love about Germany at Christmas. There's a nostalgic feeling; a feeling like you have left Facebook, Twitter, computers and cellphones behind; a feeling like you have left the buying behind; a feeling like the one I think Christmas is supposed to have. It's jolly. It's warmhearted. It's a time to give love and get love. It is not focused on presents.

Of course, Germany hasn't completely escaped from the commercialization of Christmas. Children still want presents and get presents, friends still exchange them, and stores still have huge sales to get people to buy. But, somehow, the feeling is different. All of that seems to be in the background. This is not a holiday about impressing and being impressed.

Instead, people spend a lot of time at the Weihnachtsmarkt, Glühwein in hand, chatting and smiling. Everyone seems relaxed, not frazzled. And never have I ever seen anyone running from party to party, looking like a marathon runner by the end of the night. Christmas is calm, joyful and, above all, about the people you love.

I enjoy Christmas here immensely. If my family were here with me, I would enjoy Christmas far more here than I ever have in the U.S. That is why this year I have tried to give myself the best of both worlds: the 24th (and before) in Germany and the 25th in California. I get my Christmas markets and my Glühwein, my smiling faces and my vibrant, merry spirit. And I get my family--after the insanity of preparing for the holiday has passed.

Until Christmas comes, I will continue to listen to Mr. Crosby (and his friends Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra) and all of the other Christmas music I have come to know and love over the years. I will fill this Christmas up the brim with joy and laughter, hugs and smiles. I will make this Christmas only about giving and getting love.

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