Christmas and Potato Salad

Having spent Christmas in three countries, there is one thing which will never change for me: eating potato salad and sausages on Christmas Eve.

In Germany, Christmas Eve (December 24th) is a big day: Heiligabend. Gifts are swapped after families return home from church. A traditional dish is potato salad and sausages. No, it’s not a barbecue Germans are having: eating potato salad and sausages goes back a long way. The 40 days before Christmas used to be a time of fasting. Families saved their money for December 25th when they would eat a big meal like a stuffed goose. Germans are still keeping the tradition of eating potato salad and sausages alive. What divides the country into two sides is the different ways of preparing potato salad. People in the south are making it with vinegar and oil and people in the north like to eat it with mayonnaise and pickles. For me it’s the vinegar and oil dressing; there is nothing like it.

While Canadians are filling their stockings on Christmas Eve, Germans already had Santa Claus visit on December 6th, the Feast of Saint Nicholas. On the evening of December 5th children put their stockings and boots out and the next morning they are filled with gingerbread, chocolate, oranges and nuts. Similar to Canada is the Santa Parade in big and small towns. Santa is now without a horse. In the past, Santa Clause came to our small town on a horse carriage, but animal rights activists changed the requirements. Both the Canadian and German Postal Service accept letters addressed to Santa and he will send a reply.

On Christmas Eve Christkind brings the gifts. The roots of Christkind go back to the Protestants who invented it, because they didn’t share the catholic admiration of saints like Santa Claus (Saint Nicholas). Christkind is an angel-like invisible figure which brings presents on Christmas Eve.

Like everything in Canada, traditions are carried over from the original countries of immigrants, so Christmas looks different in each household. From my Canadian friends I know that most of them are opening their presents at midnight on Christmas Eve, so it’s technically Christmas Day. Some are opening their gifts in the morning of the 25th like in England.

While December 26th is Boxing Day in Canada, in Germany the shops are still closed that day, because it’s a holiday.

Christmas in Namibia, Africa

Coming back to potato salad and sausage for Christmas. If you are German and spending the Christmas Holidays in Namibia there is no problem getting the traditional dish. Namibia used to be a German colony (1884 -1915). Today there is still a big community of Germans which are carrying on their German traditions. German Products are available in the supermarkets. There are no spruce trees in Namibia, so Namibians are decorating the branches of an acacia or hawthorn. The big thorns are perfect for hanging decorations. Since it is summertime in this part of the world, people like to have a braai (Afrikaans term for barbecue). It’s winter solstice on December 21st, the longest day in Namibia, so it’s perfect for braaing game meat like springbok.

Namibia is a diverse country with many ethnical communities. Besides the German community there is the Afrikaans Community, and also the biggest native group, the Ovambo, with their traditional land in the North of Namibia. Lots of Ovambo are living in Windhuk, the capital, but during the summer holidays they head back to their villages in the north to celebrate Christmas. Traditional food is offered and shared with the family, like slaughtering a goat and eating pap, which is porridge made of corn. Going to church is very common. Not only on Christmas; Namibians are keeping their faith alive and will be in church every Sunday.

It can get very hot in Windhuk at 40 degrees Celsius, so people flee the big city to the town of Swakopmund on the Atlantic coast where it’s much cooler. That’s the time when robbers are having their Christmas too! While Windhuk is getting empty there are a lot of house break-ins in town. The high crime rate – compared to Germany – is just part of everyday life in Namibia. People are used to it and organize private security services, for example. When all the Christmas and New Year celebrations are over it’s time for “Janu-worry.” Many people in Namibia suffer from the long break in December until the next paycheck in January. Time to fast a bit and go back to potato salad and sausages.

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