The more, the merrier: A “Field Study” of the Dresden Christmas Spirit

Researchers during a Christmas afternoon at Christina's and Maggie's home. (Photo: Dildora)
Researchers during a Christmas afternoon at Christina’s and Maggie’s home. (Photo: Dildora)

Christmas markets, Glühwein, illuminated windows and city centers… Everyone has at least a vague idea what “Christmas in Germany” looks like – from the outside. But what’s on the inside? How do Germans actually fill the Christmas spirit with life at home?

More than 20 PhD students and guest researchers from 13 different countries, many of them with their partners and families, embraced the opportunity to experience various pre-Christmas and Christmas activities in a German home this season. Together with their German hosts they visited Christmas markets, took winter walks, baked cookies, made Advent wreaths, decorated Christmas trees, played games and tasted Advent seasonal specialties like Stollen, gingerbread, cookies and Glühwein.

Below please enjoy a small selection of their experiences, conveyed to us in words and pictures. Note the variety of “German Advent coffee tables”, which are – not surprisingly – the Christmas tradition most frequently featured! :-)

Political science student Theresa invited Adriana, Yan and Taiba in early December to bake traditional shortcrust pastry cookies (which Adriana tells us were delicious, see pictures!). Communication was handled “with a mix of German, English and with our hands and feet.” Adriana compliments on the opportunity of the experience, her hostess and fellow guests as “very special”, adding: “We talked about Christmas in Brazil, Pakistan and China and compared our traditions.” Theresa echoes her sentiments: “Over tea and biscuits, we exchanged Christmas traditions in Germany, especially in my family, and in their countries. The evening was over so quickly and we parted with the wish to meet again, cook for each other and find out even more about each others’ culture and traditions.” Adriana concludes: “At the end, although different, we realized that every culture seeks for the same things: the happiness of joining the company of our beloveds.”

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PhD students Aruni and Shasha from India and China were in for a surprise visit by Santa himself while decorating the Gnauck Family’s Christmas tree (see picture). In addition to the almost proverbial coffee and Christmas cake, they were also introduced to the tradition of handcrafting small Christmas decorations together. Their hostess says, “unfortunately our meeting with the two PhD students is already over – it was great! … We travel quite a bit and are usually the foreigners ourselves … Wherever we were, we have always been welcomed and helped out so warmly, so it was great to finally have a chance to give something back.”

Surprise visit by Santa for Aruni and Shasha at the Gnauck Family’s (Photo: Gnauck family)
Surprise visit by Santa for Aruni and Shasha at the Gnauck Family’s (Photo: Gnauck family)

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“In front of the cozy fireplace, we all indulged in some original Dresden Stollen, gingerbread and home-baked cookies”, recalls Christina who, together with her partner Maggie, hosted Dildora (Usbekistan), Nakul (India) and Jian (China) for a 3rd Sunday of Advent teatime. “There was so much to talk about that time just flew by. We thought it was super – funny, inspiring and interesting! We’ll be delighted to join again next year!” Dildora, one of her guests is also full of praise, saying they conversed “about everything in the world and told funny stories about our first day of arriving in Germany. That was a long conversation and we laughed so much and partly during our discussions we all traveled to China, India and of course Uzbekistan (my home country), too.” Also, what a great Christmas present for us to read her kind words about both her hosts and the Welcome Center: “I have taken several courses all around Europe but I have never seen this kind of care for foreigners.”

The Stamms report that their guests “bravely tried the home-baked pastry cookies” at their coffee table and later all went on to the Christmas market in front of the Frauenkirche together. In summary, he believes it was a great time for all involved.

Asmamaw and his wife baked cookies with their hosts, while both families’ children had fun playing together, followed by a big family meal together with the grandparents. As we could easily spot in Asmamaw’s pictures, the Ulbrich children’s grandmother totally adored Asmamaw’s little boy! Asmamaw concludes: “We really enjoyed the evening! We would like to thank Dr. Katharina and her family for the invitation and of course the Welcome Center for organizing such events.”

With the addition of the Tran Family, the Kindermann’s coffee table also sported a considerable children-adults ratio: “The kids were immediately on common ground and played together,” the hostess recalls, “especially since the older daughter speaks very good German because she attends German kindergarten.” During the traditional Advent coffeetime with “Stollen” Christmas cake and the lighting of the third candle on the Advent wreath, the children got particularly excited when the Christmas pyramid was being set in motion. Afterwards all went outside for a winter walk which had some additional Christmas magic in store: A nearby electrician’s workshop whose owner every year sets up an elaborate window display, a winter wonderland full of moving toys! It’s amazing what cool activities our hosts came up with!

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Some families also invited their international guests for their intimate core family Christmas (on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day), which included traditions such as attending a Christmas service at church, playing games and instruments, singing, unwrapping gifts and … well, lots of (mostly undocumented) food, food… and more food ;-)

Lena from Vietnam went on the very special adventure of sharing the full Christmas Eve with the Uhlmann Family of two adults and their adolescent daughter and son, complete with coffee time, a church service with nativity play, singing, musicianship, unwrapping presents and a Christmas dinner. Lena had even prepared Christmas songs to sing together and the Uhlmanns contributed piano and flute-playing. “Especially our daughter (12th grade) got along with our guest superbly, and after one semester spent in Canada the conversation took off all by itself – we spoke about just about all sorts of things, our Christmas and other festive customs, the history of our respective countries, about food and drinks, the situation of guest researchers, about people with a Vietnamese background in Dresden, about our families and so on. Time just flew by!” Lena compliments on the warm and sweet experience and says that she thinks the Uhlmanns are “a very typical German family” and “most importantly, the atmosphere was beautiful … the photos, despite being dark, are my memories for everything.”

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Having spent Christmas Day with the Herschel family of four, Lingen reports that, after a winter walk with views over the illuminated Dresden cityscape (“Raimund even brought a telescope”) and coffee with Christmas cake thereafter, his hosts even taught him and his wife how to play Skat, a popular German card game, which they found to be “very interesting and easily addictive” and ended up playing more than 12 rounds of: “During the game we somehow got to know more about the German Philosophy — the interplay and balance between patience, risk, skill and luck. Although I lost the game after 12 rounds, I did win the love of the young family. It was a more than great, and also a profoundly memorable Christmas Day.”

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Let us close our Christmas story arch with a quote from the Magister Family’s report about their after-Christmas tea and card-game afternoon with DJ from India: “We had a great afternoon with Stollen cake and cookies, candles, good conversation and games – and an Indian dinner is already scheduled! In my view, the “Weihnachtspaten” project is wonderful and successful and I can only encourage you to continue with it in the coming year.”

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On this fitting note, we would like to thank all hosts and guests once again for sharing and extending the truly traditional Christmas gifts of hospitality and family time! Many thanks as well for providing such lively insights through photos and feedback. To hosts, guest and all readers, we wish you a

Happy and Prosperous Year 2015

and indeed look forward to facilitate bringing even more families and internationals together next Christmas season!

The Welcome Center Team

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