By this stage in December, it might seem like everything there is to be said about Christmas has in fact, been said. But Tamsin Walker has a few words on the seasonal role of Jona Lewie and ice skating in Berlin.
Long before I ever got round to looking up the translation of the opening words to Bach's Weihnachts Oratorium, they had assumed a meaning in my mind. Jauchzet frohlocket, which is German for cheer, rejoice, rings with the promise of a hearthside family gathering. I don't actually have a hearth, so there's clearly a good dose of personal fantasy going on there, but if there's a time of year when the fantastical is allowed, this is probably it.
And isn't that how we get drawn into the whole idea of Christmas in the first place? Sure, we might be stretching some truths, and indeed stockings, to better accommodate traditions and the gifts they bear, but we all love a story. So if you're sitting comfortably…
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My first Christmas here was spent with a German family, who like most others I've since met, don't put up their tree until the afternoon of December 24, dangerously close to the annual evening celebration of the same date. It gets decorated, so this particular yarn is spun, by the Christkind who works behind closed doors, and rings a bell to announce the job done just as he, she or it scarpers through an open window.
I clearly remember, that first year, wishing I was in the room hanging up baubles with the elusive adorner, but when the door finally creaked open and I got a glimpse of apples on red ribbons and real candles burning on the branches, I realized the Christkind knew how to appeal to a German audience. And indeed to me.
The joy of Jona Lewie
And that is only one facet of the season that caught my attention. Though there's no denying the gathering speed of its commercialization, it still feels — from the Advent wreath, the cleaning of shoes for St. Nikolaus, the Sundays spent with family first baking then eating cinnamon stars and vanilla curls, straw decorations of stars, angels and reindeer, and carved wooden pyramids — like a festival with traditional legs. For the most part, at least.
I can't vouch for the December soundtrack in other parts of Germany, but here in Berlin, Jona Lewie's Stop the Cavalry — that was released in 1980 and never even intended as a Christmas song — seems to be playing on a loop.
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Along with the slightly less antiquated Driving Home for Christmas. Though in my case, sliding would be more apt. For nowhere are such 80s classics more audible than at the city's makeshift yuletide skating rinks. Dotted about the city between the Alpine-style wooden huts of the great German export, the Christmas market, their glistening surfaces look so inviting, so all-you-have-to-do-is-slide-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other. But that's another fantasy.
A fantasy that sees my children giddy at the sorry sight of me clinging to edge while they whiz past periodically trying to coax out of me an inner-skater that will never exist. But I don't mind being the ice numpty. For there are apres-rink rewards to look forward to.
Such as that other great German Christmas offering — mulled wine. As I sipped mine this year, watching those around me tuck into sausages in buns while stamping their chilly feet to the unmistakable blast of Jona Lewie's trumpets, it occurred to me that such festive trimmings may just be the contemporary way to cheer and rejoice. Jauchzet frohlocket. And a happy Christmas from Berlin.