Christmas: A different experience in America


Lisbeth Nordmeyer

A German food booth in Chicago’s Christkindlmarket.

I was introduced to American Christmas traditions after Thanksgiving when my host family started decorating. Being an exchange student from Germany, seeing both the city lights and Christmas lights in nearly every window was a new experience for me.

Visiting the Christkindl market in downtown Chicago was a very special experience for me, because Christmas markets are a German tradition. The first Christmas market began in 1545 in Nürnberg, Germany.

Christmas markets can be found in every German town and there are countless markets in bigger cities. The Chicago Christmas market is almost like the one I go to in Germany.

You can buy traditional German food like currywurst, potato salad and pretzels there. I personally tried a typical Bavarian Pretzel which tasted exactly like a German one.

One main difference was the location: While many Christmas markets in Germany are located in quiet places, the Chicago Christmas market is downtown, surrounded by skyscrapers and loads of people.

When I decorated the Christmas tree with my host family, I couldn’t believe that they put donuts, golden cars and ceramic ghosts on it. I am used to wooden ornaments, red and golden glass baubles and little stars.

It is also new to me to have string lights on the Christmas tree instead of candles. When I talked about having real candles on the Christmas tree, most Americans couldn’t believe that we still follow this old fashioned tradition and started talking about safety aspects.

Another German tradition is to have an advent calendar: a calendar filled with candy or chocolate where you can open one door each day, from December 1st to Christmas Eve; the evening when Germans get their presents.

Because my host family has a strong connection to Germany, I have one here. I also learned that it became quite popular to have advent calendars around the holidays in Chicago too.

Paloma Verde, an exchange student from Spain, said that she would not get any presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas day, but instead on Jan. 6th, for Three Kings’ Day.

“Some people go crazy with the lights here in Chicago,” Verde said.

At the same time, some Spanish people get crazy with the traditional national lottery. Many people in Spain buy lottery tickets in December to see if their number will be lucky that year.

In Verde’s opinion, Americans enjoy the Christmas mood before Christmas officially starts more than Spanish people do.

She said that this joyful mood might be too good to be true.

“Not everything will be as happy as it seems in the movies,” Verde said.

Giacomo Benenti, an exchange student from Italy, said that Christmas in general is a bigger deal here than in Italy.

“I think they buy more gifts here,” Benenti said. “We don’t have a radio station which only plays Christmas music in Italy.”

In his opinion, the 25th will be more fun here because he usually stays at home and does not have a big dinner with the extended family back home.

Lisbeth Larsen, an exchange student from Denmark, said that most Danish people walk around their Christmas tree and sing Danish or English Christmas songs.

Even though she likes Danish decoration, especially Danish Christmas tree ornaments, better, she is excited to experience Christmas in Chicago.

Although Christmas is celebrated very differently throughout these countries, it will be a very interesting, and maybe even partly strange, but exciting experience for all of Lane’s exchange students, including me.

I personally am most looking forward to the morning of Christmas Day, which will be so different this year because the 25th is the more important day of Christmas here, not like in Germany.