Genre of the Week: A Cup of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg

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Author’s Note: It’s that time of year again. The holidays are approaching and with that comes the Christmas market tour. This year’s series will focus on Christmas markets in Saxony in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) as well as some in Schleswig-Holstein. At the time of this posting, a pair of Christmas markets in “Hohen Norden” have been visited and the tour guides are being put together even as we speak. Included in this year’s series will be some true stories of love and courage, which you can see in the Files’ facebook page. And lastly, some literature and videos pertaining to the holiday seasons will be profiled here.

Including this first installment, consisting of a poem by Tom Hegg entitled A Cup of Christmas Tea.

Published in 1982, Mr. Hegg’s poem looks at reunions with loved ones and the importance of maintaining a good relationship despite many years’ absence. The main character is a father who is entangled in the conventional Christmas season, filled with shopping, credit card debts and gifts with little or no meaning. The main character receives a letter one day from his great aunt, inviting him to come and visit her. Hegg states that she had suffered from a stroke and many of his relatives were persuading him to visit.  Despite much hesitation, stemming from the fact that he lost touch with her for a long time, the main character gives in and pays her a visit. Hegg believes that this had to do with his fear of what she would look like when he saw her. These fears are subsided when he rings the doorbell and she smiles and sees him. Yet Hegg argues that it was not all that causes him to put reality to the side and embrace the past. The main character’s interpretation of his great aunt (being old, frail and unable to walk), the houses in the neighborhood (being old and dilapidated) and a bygone era that seemed to slip away in favor of progress gave way to memories of his childhood and his time with her, with the neatly decorated Christmas tree, Dresden china and the smell of Christmas tea. By catching up on old times and finding out how things went, the discussion over Christmas tea, whose ingredients Hegg doesn’t mention in the poem, makes amends between two close relatives, whose lives had been separated by a life full of obligations and modernity.

And without further ado, here is the poem in full length. Enjoy! 🙂

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The Mystery Christmas Piece: The Three Candles

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The Schwibbogen, one of the landmarks a person will see while visiting Germany at Christmas time. Consisting of an arch with holders for candles, the Bogen is more commonly known as the Lichterbogen, and has its traditions going back to the 18th Century. The first known Bogen was made in Johanngeorgenstadt in the Ore Mountain region in Saxony, in 1740. It was made of black metal, which is the color of the ore found in the mountain range, was made out of a forged metal piece, and was later painted with a series of colors, adding to the piece 11 candles. This is still the standard number for a normal Bogen, but the number of candles is dependent on the size. The smaller the Bogen, the fewer the candles. Paula Jordan, in 1937, provided the design of the Bogen, by carving a scene. At first, it featured 2 miners, 1 wood carver, a bobbin lace maker, a Christmas Tree, 2 miner’s hammers, 2 crossed swords, and an angel. The light shining in represented the light the miners went without for months as they mined the mountain. However, since World War II, the scenes have varied. Nowadays, one can see scenes depicting the trip to Bethlehem, Jesus’ birth, a historic Christmas village, and nature scenes, just to name a few.  Here’s a classical example of a Bogen one will find in a window sill of a German home:

 

Photo courtesy of Oliver Merkel.
Photo courtesy of Oliver Merkel.

One will also find Schwibbogen at the Christmas markets, including the Striezelmarkt in Dresden and the largest Schwibbogen in the world at its place of origin in Johanngeorgenstadt, which was erected in 2012 and has remained a place to see ever since! 🙂

Going from the Ore Mountains, 7,400 kilometers to the west, one will see another form of the Schwibbogen, but in the state of Iowa. During the Christmas trip through Van Buren County, Iowa, and in particular, Bentonsport, several houses were shining with candles of their own. But these are totall different than the Schwibbogen we see in German households and Christmas markets. Each window had three candles, with one in the middle that is taller than the two outer ones. This is similar to the very top picture in the article, even though it is a mimic of what was seen at the village. When attempting to photograph the houses, the author was met with this:

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Even though there is not much to see from there, it shows how the candles are arranged in front of the window, closed with a curtain. Van Buren County was predominantly Dutch (more on that will come when looking at the Christmas villages), but it is unknown what the meaning behind the three candles are, let alone who was behind the concept and why. Could it be that the Dutch were simply mimicking the Schwibbogen from Saxony but just simply using three candles instead of eleven and subtracting the designed arch holder? And what does the design of the three candles stand for?

Any ideas are more than welcomed. Just add your comments or use the contact form to inform the author what the difference between the three candles and the Schwibbogen are in terms of origin and meaning. The information will be provided once the answers are collected and when looking at the Christmas villages in the county. They are small, but each one has its own culture which has been kept by its residents. The three candles are one of these that can be seen today at Christmas time, even while passing by the houses travelling along the Des Moines River, heading northwest to Des Moines.  Looking forward to the info on this phenomenon. 🙂

 

Author’s Note: Check out the Flensburg Files’ wordpress page, as a pair of genres dealing with Christmas have been posted recently. They are film ads produced by a German and a British retailer, respectively. Both are dealing with the dark sides of Christmas, as the German one looks at loneliness without family (click here) and ways to get them home for the holidays (even though the technique presented is controversial), and the British one deals with a girl meeting a man far far away (click here), who is lonely and wants company, which is given in the end.  Both have powerful messages, so have your tissues out. 🙂

 

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Flensburg Files’ 2015 Christmas Market Tour Preview

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Well, it is that time of year again- finding Christmas presents, looking for the right Christmas tree, stringing (and restringing) the lights, pouring a cup of mulled wine (Glühwein), practicing the songs for the caroling and concerts, and lastly, visiting the Christmas markets with family and friends, enjoying some company and trying out new things.

In its sixth year, the Flensburg Files will be taking a look at the Christmas markets in Germany, with some surprises in store for the reader. We’ll look at some leftovers from last year’s USA market tour, which started with Amana Colonies and was supposed to continue on but the author was downed with a flu virus during his stay in Chicago, which lasted several days, even into January. Yet some places visited are fresh and highly recommended, which means they will appear in the coming articles. Also new to the Files are some typical items you will find in German (and some American) homes and their origins. This includes the Adventskranz (EN: Advent wreath), the Candle-holding Angel and the Pyramid, just to name a few. We will also sneak in some German-named villages in Minnesota that the author visited one Christmas as a bonus. Which ones? We’ll let him do the work.

And for the traditional Christmas markets in the German cities? Check out the wordpress version of the Files as there will be some to be posted, adding to the long list that has been produced already.

Note: If you want some tips on which Christmas markets to visit and what the author recommends? Here’s a quick guide of the ever-growing list. If you want to add one to the list as a guest writer, please let him know using the contact details below.

Link:

https://flensburgerfiles.wordpress.com/tourism-guide/

 

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Christmas and Holidays, where Peace and Goodwill Meet

Christmas and the Holidays: where peace and goodwill meet. Where differences are put aisde and family and friends reunite to talk about memories and the future. There have been some concerns recently that Christmas was becoming more based on consumption and profits, thus making some people don their Ebenezer Scrooge outfits, while the Robert Cratchits increase in numbers. One of the examples is stores opening their doors on Thanksgiving, a holiday that is considered as sacred as Christmas, instead of doing that on Black Friday at 9:00am.

And while some department stores are bucking this new trend, as seen with Nordstroms, The Home Depot, Marshalls, and Ace Hardware, there’s one store chain, located outside the US, that is taking Christmas to a more personal level. Sainsbury’s in Great Britain, in commemoration with the 100th anniversary of World War I, produced a rather heart-throbbing commercial to kick off the holiday shopping season. Here’s the video clip for you to watch:

 

And even when Britain and Germany was at war with each other, both sides took the time to put aside their differences and exchange stories and gifts, play soccer, and even learn each other’s language. Don’t you think you can do this as well? Since that time, we’ve found ways to forgive each other, break down barriers, and even help each other when in need. But we have also not forgotten what war and ignorance can do to another person. I remember a poster on one of the streets in a German community that says it all: Looking at the poor with houses destroyed through war and empty baskets with no food with the slogan- the biggest catastrophe is ignorance.

So this Christmas and this holiday season, take a few minutes of your time and do something that you’ve been meaning to do for a long time but could not because of barriers that kept you from doing so. Donate blood and/or food to those who need it. Contact someone you fell out years before but would like to make amends. Visit those whom you haven’t seen in a long time, family or friend alike. Put aside your differences and find the similarities that bring you together. Open up and learn something new from others.  Do something that others will benefit from. Only then, will you not only build bridges and break down the barriers. You and those affected will benefit a great deal.  As seen with the Fall of the Berlin Wall, both sides wanted it: the easterners because they wanted to be free, and the westerners because they wanted one Germany instead of two.  We have a lot to do but it just takes a little bit of your time to do it.

So away with the shopping carts. Go to the kitchen and prepare a great meal for those in need. They’ll thank you for that. 🙂

BTW: Sainsbury might have stolen all the awards for this advert. Well done, indeed!

 

You can take your Christmas Tree down now.

 

A few days ago, as I was preparing for my English classes at the university in Germany, I was listening to a morning talk show on a radio station based in Kansas City when the hosts brought up the subject of Christmas trees and when they should be taken down. Normally this would be a topic that is a no-brainer and should not be talked about on a radio station, for once the holiday season is over with, the decorations are put away, and the Valentine’s and spring decorations come out.  But after listening to what various people have to say, I have come to a conclusion that some of us need to get a life and look at the real events going on outside the world instead of worrying about what to do with the centerpiece of the day of giving and commemorating the Lord’s birth, the Christmas tree.  Some people leave their trees up until Valentine’s Day. Some leave the decorations on the tree but put the entire thing into its very own closet. And there are some who have the seasonal tree, where the trees receives different decorations when Valentine’s Day, Easter, Independence Day (4th of July), Halloween, Fall, and Thanksgiving come around!  When hearing about the different ways the tree is left up, it makes me wonder “What is the point of keeping up the tree at any cost, when all it does is take up space in the house in all the months of the year except the holiday season????”  Sometimes it makes me wonder whether we should have a tree up at all, as  there are other decorations and other things that make Christmas an enjoyable. In Germany,  we have other decorations that commemorate Christmas, like the candle pyramid (Dt.:  Pyramide), the lighted Christmas Arch (Lichterbogen) or even the incense men/houses. But here, we too have the Christmas tree and strangely enough, the concept originated from here as well. Yet we have a different way of treating our prized trees.

Normally,  the Christmas tree goes up on 23rd or 24th and remains there until after Epiphany (6th of January) when it comes down. It is much shorter than putting it up at Thanksgiving and taking it down in February, if some even do that. The reason for that is many Germans prefer the smell of a good old fashion natural Christmas tree, instead of the artificial tree made of plastic, which has the tendency of losing its needles as fast as the natural one.  In Bavaria, Baden Wurttemberg and Saxony Anhalt, the dismantling of the tree is a tradition on Epiphany, as it usually follows the carolers (consisting of three people) who go door to door to sing about the birth of Jesus Christ. It actually fits with the legend of the Three Wise Men who blessed the baby and provided Joseph and Mary with gifts of good tidings. This holiday basically concludes the holiday season and is the start of being back to business as usual and looking forward to spring, which is only two months away. That is, unless you are living in the northern hemisphere this year and experiencing the warmest winter on record with absolutely no snow on the ground, even though it is normal for this time of year.

I have no objection to the Christmas tree or the holiday season per se, as it is a time for family, relaxation, Christmas markets and other holiday events, and love. Yet for some reason, we seem to have lost the holiday’s true meaning this past season, with Black Friday taking place at midnight on Thanksgiving instead of at 9am the Friday after (and people planning their Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday instead of the Thursday it was provided for over 140 years), the obsession with the number of gifts a person should receive, and the stress of plowing through shopping malls and other venues just to see or buy anything they see. The Christmas tree debate is the last drop in an already full cup of coffee that has now spilled over.  The fortunate part about this holiday season is that we have another 11 months to reflect on what went wrong with the holiday season and plan ahead for the next one, with the hope that it will be more right than the last one.  However, as obsessive as we are with planning and consumption, I think we need to take a few steps back and walk into the wild we call reality, where we are dealt with the problems society is facing that we keep ignoring: environmental pollution, global warming, poverty and unemployment, crime and social pathologies, historic and natural places being destroyed by modernization and consumption, and our education system getting tanked in favor of profits.  I think if everyone can do something for the benefit of others, then we all can appreciate what we have and walk away from consumption at any cost. This includes being heavily influenced by the media and not being able to see things from our own perspective. It also includes being informed of the events happening in the world and learning a small bit of our world every day, gathering experience wherever it is needed, and feeling good about giving charity instead of taking all the time and not being happy at all.

Only then when we take a look at the wild side of life and contribute to the good will we learn to appreciate the true meaning of the holidays, and we can share our experiences with others come next Christmas. By then, we will not have to worry about when and where to decorate the Christmas tree let alone plan where we want to park at a shopping center on Black Friday just so we can obtain the gift of our wish. Maybe we will not to have to worry about presents at all, as the true meaning of Christmas is to share our love and ideas with others and having a great time, that is in front of a natural tree that is put up right before or on Christmas Eve.