Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Holidays

Hi All,

When Tamara called me on Wednesday afternoon while I was at work and asked whether we would celebrate Thanksgiving, i.e., the American Thanksgiving, the next day (Thursday, 22nd of November), I was taken aback. This was only a day before the holiday and I had totally forgotten that the next day was the Thanksgiving Thursday. I still had it pegged as being a week later. Without the days off to remind me, I had simply forgotten.

The last few months have been filled with holidays and the associated emotions that come with them. The emotions of the holidays struck me a bit differently this year as we were away from home and experienced new holidays in our "new" country and some of the traditional American holidays as well. I thought describing some of those experiences would give some insights into our lives as expatriates in Germany.

It all started on the 30th of September with Thanksgiving, of all holidays. The German word is Erntedankfest and literally means harvest thanksgiving festival. It is on a Sunday and many choirs sing in their churches. People get together, but not in the major event type of way like the American Thanksgiving. It's also not a two day holiday, so it's just smaller. Our congregation held a potluck dinner after worship services and sacrament meeting on Sunday. It was very nice, but I can't wait for Ian to be able to feed himself. My parents were also visiting at that time and so it was a nice relaxing day. We took the kids on a nice walk in the woods near our house.

During the last week of September and the 1st week in October our children had the harvest holidays for school. I only experienced this in Idaho while attending Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho). The high schools and (I assume some of the grade and middle schools) in the area had from 5 days to 10 days off of school for potato harvest. For the our kids this was a great time. Grandma and Grandpa were there and dad was home most of the time. It was a good time to renew our family ties and get the kids recharged for school.

October 3 is the Day of German Reunification, marking the day when East and West Germany were officially reunited in 1990. According to one of my college German professors, the 3rd of October was chosen in part because it is the day on which a famous German statesman and Nobel Peace prize winner, Gustav Stresemann, died. The day of reunification is a lesser known holiday in the U.S. as I would say most associate the reunification with the day when the Berlin Wall came down - November 9th 1989.

For Tamara and I it was also a day of reunification as we got to get away for a night without the kids - thanks to grandma and grandpa. We attended the LDS Temple in Frankfurt on the Day of German Reunification, October 3rd as the temple was open for services that day. Tamara and I were sealed in the Salt Lake City Temple, lo these many years ago, and now to be in a temple in Germany together where we first met, was special. We stayed on the temple grounds in a family hostel and it was a wonderful overnighter together. It was very peaceful and helped us to renew our commitment to one another and our family. It also helped us realize that we can go to the temple more often. We can take our children and stay overnight at the family hostel and take turns going to the temple for worship services. We are planning a trip at Christmas time.

Then came Halloween on the 31st of October. This is also Reformation Day (Reformationstag) in some of the more Lutheran parts of Germany and marks the day in 1517 when Martin Luther placed his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Here it is not an official holiday, but people I work with reminded me of its significance. For Halloween, we got dressed up and went to the International School for Trunk-or-Treating. I dressed up as a hockey player and the kids were Darther Vader, a Witch, a Pumpkin, and a Green Bay Packers football player (Spencer had a slumber party and missed some of the Halloween fun).

Halloween was a lot of fun, but really made me miss America. I found it weird that Halloween, a mostly non-sentimental holiday, got me so choked up, but it did. Maybe it was my own memories of Halloween. Maybe it was the excitement of getting dressed up and trick-or-treating with my sisters as a kid. Maybe it was the tooth brushes my dad, a dentist, handed out at Halloween each year. By the way, although it sounds like an odd tradition, our neighbors lived by this tradition. I heard from several neighbors that they waited an extra month or so with an older toothbrush sometimes just for Halloween and the Wheeler toothbrush. Maybe it was the American celebration in Germany, which reminded me that I am a foreigner here in this "new" land. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I was definitely homesick.

On November 1st, All Saints Day, an official holiday in our area of Germany, we celebrated American Thanksgiving. That means that Tamara cooked a traditional thanksgiving dinner. And I have to say, Tamara has not lost her touch one bit, despite the year off. In the states she cooked thanksgiving dinners at least 3 times a year and this was the 1st thanksgiving dinner she has cooked since being in Germany. Me and my friend even watched football. Sure it was last year's rivalry game between BYU and Utah, but the Cougars won in miraculous, last play of the game fashion, and it made for a good time. Not to mention educating my German friend on the finer points of American football. And, in typical thanksgiving day fashion, Tamara kept asking if the game was over, and how much longer, and was generally tired of football even though we fast forwarded about 3/4 of the game not to mention all of the commercials.

Then, on the 12th of November came a great German holiday. Saint Martin's Day and the St. Martin's Day parade (Laterne Laufen). It is a bit hard to express how awestruck I am by this holiday and tradition. For me there is an impressive power that comes with this holiday that I truly cherish each year. Some here compare it to Halloween, because children gather candy by going door-to-door, but it is different than Halloween. The kids don't dress up usually, they just have their lantern to give them light as the walk around.

Here are some of things the kids do for St. Martin's, who was a soldier who took the time to help the poor. Kids walk about 6 km just following St. Martin on his horse. This is called Laterne Laufen, or a lantern/candle light march. Kids sing songs about caring for the poor while walking (Two bands played the music as we marched - one in front of the parade and one in the back). Once the march is over, the kids sing songs and act out a play about helping the poor on the school playground. When going door to door for candy after the festivities, kids sing the songs again before getting the candy. The next day in school, the kids give 1/2 to 3/4 of their candy away to those in need (there is a collection point in the school). For me, the holiday celebration in Düsseldorf last year was even more impressive. There were 6-8 horses instead of just one horse as it was in our village this year, at least two grade schools were involved, and entire city blocks, including street cars and buses, were shut down while we walked through the streets (Laterne Laufen) singing the songs. It was moving.

I really enjoy this German holiday tradition, walking through the streets and hearing the songs and music, and then hearing Hannah sing the songs for days afterward makes me very grateful to have been able to come over and live in Germany for a time. I feel that it is something we could not have experienced otherwise and it made me very grateful for the opportunity to be here.

I hope you all enjoy your Thanksgiving Day and have a great Christmas and New Year.

With Love,
The Wheelers

P.S. Tamara called me on Thanksgiving Day at about 5 p.m. (I was at work) and asked if I was coming home for Thanksgiving dinner. I said, that's not what we talked about. She said, but what if I wanted to surprise you? I was like, Oh phooey. I have to stay late at work and and Tamara cooked a turkey. Gratefully, she said she was kidding and just wanted to check in towards the end of the day.