As marvelous as living in California is, the one thing that blows here is Christmastime. While other people enjoy frosty walks among snowy trees, merry carolers, and festive shop windows, Christmas in California is depressingly yellow. Sure, the community does the best it can to capture the Christmas spirit. San Jose’s Christmas in the Park has animated Christmas displays, an ice skating rink, a big Christmas tree with ever-changing musical performances in front of it every night, and even sprays of snow that children cavort in, even though it usually melts before touching the ground. San Francisco’s Union Square is similar, though without the ice skating and with a more commercial edge. But it still feels like a pale effort at the real thing.
So when I learned the German-American School in Mountain View was having a Christmas Fair, I had to go. The Germans are hard-core about Christmas festivities and it’s very much a cultural as well as a commercial thing. But, well, it was still Christmas in California. There were a few handicrafts for sale from several vendors, but I was surprised that (except for the school’s library, which was having a sale on discard items) there weren’t any German books, CDs or DVDs for sale. In contrast, at Russian fairs, there are usual several vendors selling such stuff, as well as other untranslatably Russian, or ex-Soviet-Republic, things, like street pierogi and Georgian wines. At this fair, foodwise, there were gingerbread cookies, stollen, and wurst, but how ethnic is that? Where’s the rabbit stew, decadently fresh little bread rolls, or the eat-the-whole-pig feast? But the school did have at least one extraordinarily delightful thing: a labyrinth, which Neil and Kelly (as well as many others) loved threading:
The auditorium had a children’s choir, which sang the only unmangled version of “O Tannenbaum” I’ve heard in a long time. And then it was time for the highlight of the festival: Santa Claus’s arrival. Now the Germans were calling him “der Weinachtsmann” (literally, “the Christmas guy”) which had Peter asking me why that, and not Saint Nikolaus. Uh, I really don’t know. I know Saint Nikolaus is the guy who comes knocking on your door on December 6, accompanied by his buddy, Knecht Ruprecht. Like Santa, he gives you a little interview, and if you’re good, you get some praise, maybe even a piece of candy. If you’ve been bad, Knecht Ruprecht gives you a beating, and if your parents hate you too, he hauls you off in his sack. When I told Neil about Knecht Ruprecht, he just hated the very idea; I guess it’s kind of different if you’ve seen the real thing, which looks more like one of your neighbors dressed in black, carrying some sticks, and laughing.
Der Weinachtsmann (Christmas Guy), I think, is the German’s modern-day of Santa Claus. I vaguely remember when I was a kid Christmas gifts just came from your family, and Santa Claus was an American fairy tale. But everyone loves Santa Claus, so I’m not surprised the Germans adopted him, too. After all, he is a lot more fun than Saint Nikolaus. He doesn’t hang with anyone like Knecht Ruprecht, and he doesn’t make you work for a little piece of candy. He unconditionally brings you lots of big, expensive gifts, so you don’t even need a family at Christmastime. Oh, there’s supposedly that coal-in-your-stocking thing, but I know lots of bad kids, and they always seem to get a last-minute reprieve.
Poor Saint Nikolaus (and Knecht Ruprecht): this festival was closer to their day than to Christmas, but they still got ousted by someone more popular.