Christmas is an exciting time of year for many of us, but it is celebrated differently all over the world. From The Netherlands to Australia, InterNations employees have shared their Christmas experiences and traditions from their native countries. With more than 2.4 million members in 390 cities around the world, InterNations is the largest global network and information site for people who live and work abroad. Currently more than 100 people from 33 countries work at InterNations in Munich and five of them are sharing their personal Christmas stories as part of a holiday series here.
We slumped in our seats, the pattern of the warm metal seat imprinted on the underside of my sweaty thighs. The sun was scorching the metal train tracks distorting the hot air and making it wave and shimmer as it rose. A fly was persistently niggling its way between my parched lips. The sky grew gravely darker, the blackness spreading like spilled ink. The air was thick with the smell of smoke. I had been sitting with my boyfriend at the station for three hours. Our train from rural Albury to the big-shot capital, Canberra (population 350,000), had been delayed. An approaching bush fire had halted its journey. This was not unusual, as indicated by the regular fire rating signs positioned along the highways adjusted according to the fire threat on any particular day. Today the arrow had been set menacingly at ‘catastrophic.’ “Welcome to Australia!” I laughed.
We had spent last Christmas with my boyfriend’s family in snow-blanketed Bavaria. This year we were making our way back to Canberra to have an Australian Christmas with my family. Despite the heat, the shops and houses were still adorned with “snow” (cotton wool). Obese men sweltering in red winter suits, white wigs and long beards sat sweating in shopping malls. “Ho, Ho, Ho,” they bellowed, as they had their picture taken with crying children and spoilt pets. I had laughed incredulously when I was told that German children had their presents delivered each Christmas by a flying baby Jesus. Probably not any more credible to have gifts distributed by a fat man from the north pole flying around the world on a sleigh drawn by nine flying reindeer who climbs down your chimney! As small children, we would wake on Christmas day (25th) to discover that the reindeers had nibbled the carrot we had left for them, and Santa had gulped down the milk even though dad always suggested he might prefer whiskey.
Our Bavarian Christmas the previous year was celebrated on Christmas Eve, curled up beside the crackling fireplace. We donned woolen socks, sipped Gluehwein and ate ginger bread, read books, gazed out the window at the snowflakes falling delicately, and slept entwined to keep each other warm. This year our holiday consisted of lazing in hammocks, dressing in cotton singlets sporting varied degrees of sunburn, drinking bottles of cold beer, and sleeping with the blankets kicked off the end of the bed, the pedestal fan whirring loudly as we slept.
Like any other summer morning on the bush block only half an hour from the center of the city, we awoke on Christmas to a chorus of cicadas. Today the cicadas played back up to the three Christmas carol albums my mum owns, their broken covers dusted off every year. Played in constant rotation each Christmas, we all know the songs word for word even anticipating the places the occasional song will skip. It’s a fun thing to share — singing random carols in our haphazard family choir. Mum was awake already, singing ‘dashing through the snow’ as she watered the thirsty plants by the back door. Water restrictions stipulated that plants could only be watered before 9am or after 5pm, so she was getting in early.
After a lazy morning spent in our pajamas opening presents around the tree, the requisite Christmas aprons were distributed and we began preparing for our great Christmas lunch. Dad rolled the BBQ out onto the lawn, sporting a Santa hat as he flipped the sausages and rissoles. We lunched outside, toasting one another and the year to come with cups of clinking ice and punch, and cracking open our bonbons to find colorful paper party hats and bad jokes. After emptying our plates piled with blackened sausages and a tantalizing mosaic of salads followed by plum pudding and trifles, we lethargically enjoyed the sun, played boules on the lawn, dragged the kayaks out on the dam, took a relaxed walk amongst the eucalypt trees, stomping our feet to scare off snakes and watched kangaroos scatter. We snacked on leftovers for dinner, and with the Christmas gift of full stomachs and contented hearts, we fell into bed drifting off to sleep with the lullaby of our pedestal fan.