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Germany

Christmas in Afghanistan

Hundreds of German peacekeepers stationed in Afghanistan are gearing up for a Christmas far away from home and family. But they're pulling out all the stops and celebrating with Christmas trees, gifts and mass.

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They may not have the Nuremburg Christmas market, but soldiers in Kabul will have plenty of holiday treats this year.

Amidst the dry desert landscape of Afghanistan and several thousand miles away from home and loved ones, over 2,000 German soldiers working to keep the peace are preparing to take a break from their security duties and celebrate Christmas.

The military headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the capital of Kabul is beginning to resemble a German town just before the festive season.

The smell of traditional baking wafts out from the special Christmas market erected for the troops, a stuffed elk surfs on a green snowboard to the beat of the music on a Christmas store counter, the dining room is aglow with colorful lights, homemade cookies are piled high on the tables and candles and wreaths decorate most of the usually plain rooms.

Even the first pine trees have finally arrived, flown in all the way from Germany.

Vital link to home

The post office at ISAF headquarters has witnessed hectic activity since early December. More than five tons of letters and packages have already been sent back and forth between Germany and Afghanistan.

Post office worker Burkhard Opitz said that early planning was a must for soldiers who wanted their packages to reach home in time to be put under the Christmas tree on Dec. 24. "Here the Christmas traffic had to be pulled forward because of all the flying, since it all also depends on the weather. We had a Dec. 5 deadline, which means it’s better to play safe because all the mail has to go through customs in Speyer, Germany," he explained.

"A slice of home"

For the two German military priests based in Afghanistan, Christmas Eve is expected to bring a whole load of work. They are scheduled to hold services in the base camp, the ISAF headquarters as well as for the soldiers, who are stationed at the Kabul airport.

Protestant priest Jens Hausschild said he expected huge crowds to attend the mass in the base camp. "After all it’s no normal Sunday, but Christmas Eve. That’s why we’re going to be celebrating in our auditorium, an event tent formerly used as a fitness studio and cinema hall. Lots of people can fit in there."

Hausschild’s Catholic colleague, Joseph Gertz, added, "we’re going to celebrate mass in the same way that we do at home. I think it’s important because it’s a slice of home."

Song and Food

In keeping with efforts to recreate a normal Christmas, the priests have also organized a Christmas choir. For weeks, 14 soldiers have been training their vocal chords to belt out one Christmas song after the other under the guidance of Gertz, who is also the choir director.

And much like Christmas the world over, food will form the centerpiece of the festivities at the ISAF headquarters. Soldiers at the camp have long been earnestly speculating on the finer details of the Christmas spread.

One of the soldiers was hardly able to contain his enthusiasm. "There’s a plan and if we stick to it. We’re going to get something delicious to eat. I think there’s going to be goose. And since we’re multinational, there will also be specialties from England, America, Canada."

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