Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! Being in Berlin, I missed this year's War on Christmas in America. I do remember, though, when some pundits tried to export it to Germany. That must have been a few years ago. So, a lot of stuff popular in America finds its way to Germany, for instance C.S.I., Star Trek, sneakers, Coca Cola, commercial advertising as we know it, and Jazz. Some things don't, especially things that imply tradition, culture, oldfashionedness, and food (except fast food), because it does not fit the cliché.

Christmas in Germany has a long tradition, much longer than America. Germany invented Christmas as we know it, with the Christmas tree (which goes back to the 16th century), songs like "Silent Night", homemade Christmas cookies, mulled wine, decorations, Christmas markets, and gifts. In America, Christmas was imported, basically from Germany. In the beginnings, when English, German, and Irish settlers were fighting for their place in society, there was even a movement against German Christmas as well (at some point, the Christmas tree was banned in Massachusetts).

But also the American Santa is a remote depiction of the Dutch/German/Austrian Nikolaus, about as remote than Jazz is from tribal music of the West Coast of Africa, even though that's where it originates. Santa's current design goes back to Coca Cola, and it is frowned upon in Germany among, well, normal people. I always used to believe that Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, was invented by Disney, turns out, not true. But when our family celebrated our first American Christmas in California, my mother, who was shocked by Santa and those artificial (and pink) Christmas trees, created a German Christmas island in our apartment, complete with hand-made cookies.

When the War on Christmas in America began, the point was that many other religions had a end-of-the-year festival as well, so they should be included. That turned out to be, well, not true. The only serious religion that has a holiday roughly in the temporal vicinity of Christmas is Judaism, and Hanukkah has nothing to with the birth of a new religion, or rebirth in general. It goes back to a battle between two ancient Middle Eastern tribes, the Israelites and the Maccabeans. For Americans, it would make more sense to celebrate some battle between the Apache and the Comanche.

This year, the War on Christmas is about whether Christians have hijacked the Pagan celebration of the winter solstice, when the days become longer (which is, by the way, December 21, not 25). This is a tradition that goes back to a time when our forefathers have worshiped the Gods of nature in, you guessed it, Germany. So, basically, the current War on Christmas in America is about what kind of Germanic tradition to follow.

For Germans, that does not make a lot of sense. First, that torch-yielding, Thor-adoring culture has been somewhat discredited due to the Nazis, when a fringe movement within the SS wanted to go back to the roots (and even then, normal people could not care less). Second, these are all our roots. Going back to a period where people were worshiping trees makes as much sense than trading a Mercedes for a horse-and-buggy; sure, some people do it, but it will not catch on as a general idea.

Having said that, there is a War on Christmas in Germany as well: It is about Santa Claus. German parents start to ditch the American, Coca-Cola-designed Santa Claus in favor of the German Christkind, which goes back to Baby Jesus (even though it's female; then again, in the original Nibelungenlied quite a few characters were female, yet JRR Tolkin turned them into men). It is called the war against commercialism, and, looking at my nieces and nephews, I‘m afraid it will be lost.

In that spirit: Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Scoops and Predictions

Like everybody else, I am following the Republican debate near-breathlessly, although I have still not found this mysterious channel on my remote that will carry the infamous Donald-Trump-led debate (if it is happening at all).

So, what is gonna happen the upcoming year? Who knows, however,  I will go out on a limb here and make three predictions:

1) If Jon Huntsman gets any traction at all, Glenn Beck will come out and endorse him big time.

2) Newt Gingrich will not be the nominee.

3) Rick Perry will bounce back.

Other than that, I believe Obama has a pretty good chance of getting re-elected.

Friday, December 2, 2011

German Traces

 Here is an interesting project: It is called "German Traces", and it is launched today in New York with a party at 6pm at the Goethe Institut at 72 Spring Street in Downtown Manhattan. The idea is to "reveal the German influence in New York City from 1840-1945" when many immigrants came from Germany.

The Goethe Institute has created a website that guides the reader through "locations in the city where, via podcasts and augmented reality, German traces are brought to life", such as churches, public buildings, restaurants, memorials like the one to the Slocum disaster at Tompkins Square Park or, of famous immigrants of German heritage like John Roebling or John Jacob Astor.

With that website, you can look up stories on your computer as well as on your smartphone, and there is also a link to contribute your own stories, or stories told to you by your parents or grandparents. The website is


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