As we put Thanksgiving in our rear-view mirror and hurtle onward toward December, two of my favorite seasonal beverages have returned!
The Family Friendly One: Egg nog! While some people make their own nog, I prefer the store-bought variety. Egg nog started to show up in stores partway into November.
I like Lactaid’s version of this holiday classic best because dairy and I are not friends and Silk Nog just isn’t quite creamy enough.
One of my favorite things about eggnog is that it kind of always tastes like there’s rum in it, even when there isn’t. Speaking of boozy drinks,
The Slightly More Adult One: I was first introduced to Glühwein while I was living in Germany. It’s mulled wine, and it’s served hot. If you ever have the chance to go to a Christkindlmarkt, or Christmas Market, a mug of hot Glühwein while you’re standing around outside with friends in the cold is just a delightful thing. I hate that the markets are almost certainly closed this year. Stupid Covid.
Trader Joe’s carries bottles of Glühwein this time of year, made in Germany and imported to the US for the consumption of those of us who love it. I was excited to see the bottles all stacked up in the store. All you have to do is heat it up and drink it.
I might bundle up and drink it outside on the balcony, just to have a more authentic experience.
For my Thanksgiving post, I had the brilliant idea to share some of my favorite Thanksgiving joke images today. Then I checked and sure enough, I had the exact same idea during NanoPoblano 2016. Damn it, Past Steven, why don’t you ever leave some of the good ideas for Future Steven to execute?
Since my first idea for a Thanksgiving post has already been done, I’ll have to come up with something else. Perhaps a tale of the first Thanksgiving.
As an aside, can we talk about this for a second? Who ever thought it would be a good idea to have a dog and a bird create a feast for the entire group? For that matter, who thought that buttered toast and popcorn was a proper feast? (Full disclosure: childhood me thought that buttered toast and popcorn looked absolutely delicious, and in my tiny brain this meal was the height of luxury for many years.)
No, I’m actually talking about my first Thanksgiving in Germany. A quick recap for those who haven’t read this blog from the beginning: I started the blog in late October of 2011, and moved to Germany on November 11th of that year. This meant that when Thanksgiving happened two weeks later, I was alone in a new country. I hadn’t really made friends yet, and I was only just getting to know my coworkers. I was even still living in the hotel, because I didn’t find an apartment there until the following week.
What I did have was an overabundance of preparation- I had Internet-stalked the local English speaker’s Stammtisch, and had pre-emptively become Internet-friends with a few local folks. (A Stammtisch is basically any group of people that meets regularly, often in a pub. The literal translation is “regular table.” The shared topic of a Stammtisch can be absolutely anything- a photography Stammtisch, a bridge-player’s Stammtisch, you name it. Think of it like meetup.com, but in Germany and without the clunky website.)
Because I had started the conversation with other people almost before I arrived in Germany, I managed to score an invitation to a Thanksgiving dinner being held at a local Irish pub called Murphy’s Law. (This Irish pub became one of my most frequent haunts for the three years I lived there, but that’s another story.)
The pub is all downstairs, and it feels like it’s carved out of a cave. It has a front area with a small amount of space ringing a U-shaped bar and a second much larger room which left empty unless they’re very busy. I was guided to this room on arrival, and I was seated with a bunch of people I didn’t know. I really only knew one person in the room at that point, and that one only just barely, so this was socializing-under-fire.
The dinner began, and it was a warm and friendly affair. I was the only American at my table, so I found myself acting as an impromptu American ambassador. I answered lots of curious questions from the others about traditional Thanksgiving customs back in the US. I wish I could remember some of the questions they asked, but this was nine years ago and I foolishly didn’t blog about it at the time.
Someone from the nearby US Army base in Hohenfels was at one of the other tables, and they had brought an American delicacy to be shared with the group: Twinkies.
I do love a traditional Thanksgiving Twinkie.
Speaking of Thanksgiving traditions, since I’m in my new apartment here in Arlington, I’ve managed to score a can of jellied cranberry. It just isn’t a proper Thanksgiving meal if I can’t see the ripples from the can on the side of my cranberry, you know? Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure one of the questions I was asked at the German Thanksgiving dinner was about cranberry sauce. I have a vague recollection of someone being astonished that this was a food that Americans actively seek out and enjoy.
My family also has another tradition that is incredibly silly, now that I think about it. We would always have multiple pies after dinner, so you could choose which one you wanted to eat.
That’s not the silly part. The silly part is that one of those pies is a chocolate pudding pie. It is literally just chocolate pudding in a pie crust. With a little bit of whipped cream, sure, but it had no structure after it was sliced. It was just loose pudding in a pie crust.
Does your family have any unusual Thanksgiving traditions?
Like Halloween, Valentine’s Day is a late addition to Germany. Children here don’t typically exchange valentines in school like I did growing up, and the holiday is mostly for romantic couples here.
The stores here don’t usually sell children’s Valentine’s cards like you would find in the US, but the rest of the trappings of the holiday are pretty easy to find- red hearts full of chocolate, balloons, flowers- Hallmark and FTD would never let a market slip through their iron fist that easily.
That being said, Germany does have its share of interesting traditions that aren’t generally found in the US. Among the red hearts full of chocolate and candy are the green foil wrappings of Lindt’s Der Froschkönig, the Frog King. The connection of the Frog King to Valentine’s Day seems to be based loosely on the Brothers Grimm faery tale of the Frog Prince. Eating a chocolate frog is better than kissing frogs, I guess. In the original Brothers Grimm version, the frog’s spell was broken when the princess threw it against a wall though. Maybe you’re supposed to throw your chocolate frog at the wall also.
Either way, he sure is cute. Here are some of this year’s Froschkönig offerings. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!
Do you have any interesting Valentine’s Day traditions to share?
I was walking past the bakery late last week, and I noticed a tray of little marzipan piggies with signs that said “Viel Glück!” which translates to “Good Luck!” Sensing the possibility to learn something fascinating and new, I immediately e-mailed this picture to my German Authority, Jenny, with the following missive: “Please explain to me the tradition of the good luck pigs?”
The reason for the little Angry Bird combatant snacks is that Germans regard pigs as lucky. Around the end of the year, the Glücksschweinchen (lucky piglet) turns up in various snack foods, often with a four leaf clover or a horse shoe, which are also considered to be lucky. Sometimes a ladybug, also considered good luck, is present as a red foil wrapped chocolatey treat.
Similarly, but not as sugary, chimney sweeps are said to be repositories of good luck, and on New Year’s Day you should do your best to shake hands with your friendly neighborhood sweep. I wonder if the City worker guys who sweep up trash at the bus stop in the morning would count.
There are a slew of other superstitions and traditions- far, far too many to recount here. As we go into New Year’s Eve, I’ll leave you with one more German superstition to bear in mind- Never toast with water. It’s considered a wish for harm to befall the people you are toasting. Stick to ringing in the new year with fine Bavarian beer. It’s just better for all concerned.
Happy new year, everyone! Alles Gute im Neuen Jahr!
If you say “Germany” to most Americans and then ask them to list everything they know about the culture, you’ll probably get a response that starts with two words: Lederhosen and Oktoberfest.
Oktoberfest is just one of many, many festivals here. I posted a gallery back at the beginning of April from a smaller festival when Palmator was tapped for the first time, back on Palm Sunday. There’s one coming up here in Regensburg called Dult. Mai Dult, in this case, because it’s in May. There’s another Dult in September. This has all the trappings of an Oktoberfest, though, including rides, crowds, tents with live music, people in traditional outfits, and, of course, beer.
As for the traditional clothing, there are many different types of tracht. While the word tracht translates to costume, this isn’t just a costume for those who wear it, it’s a part of their cultural heritage and tradition. However, tracht is not traditional for all of Germany- it’s regional. It is mostly found in Austria and here in Bavaria. Tracht is often worn for festivals, but it’s not at all uncommon to see it worn here for bachelor and bachelorette parties and other festive occasions.