Tag Archives: christmas

Christmas traditions

23 Dec

This year I am flying back to the UK for Christmas. I have a feeling I will be missing out on a White Christmas in Switzerland but last year I missed out on a lot of traditions that we have in the UK.

There are quite a lot of differences between UK and Swiss traditions. Firstly, Santa Claus (or Samichlaus) doesn’t come to Switzerland on Christmas Eve. He arrives on 6th December and he doesn’t bring presents. He brings cookies and sweets to children who have been good and behaved themselves. For naughty children, there is a character called Smutzli (literally, “little dirty one”), who is dressed like Samichlaus but in black instead of red. He finds the naughty children and carries them off to the woods and beats them with a stick and they get given a piece of coal instead of sweets. No wonder Swiss children are so well behaved! I don’t think the six-year-old me would have said boo to a goose, if I was threatened with corporal punishment instead of sweet treats.

The Swiss, and most other Europeans, have their presents delivered by Christkind (literally, “Christ child”). He normally arrives so that presents can be opened on 24th December. Why the person who delivers presents is called Christ child is anyone’s guess but it seems to have something to do with the baby Jesus giving the gifts. What I don’t understand is that Christmas is Jesus’s birthday, so why is he giving gifts to everyone? I don’t hand out vouchers for Amazon and Boots to my friends when it is my birthday. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? And, if Christians are right and he was born to absolve us of our sins, then hasn’t he given us enough anyway?

In the UK, our traditions are just a great big mash up of these traditions. Santa Claus, which must be a corruption of Samichlaus, Father Christmas and Saint Nicholas (who’s Saint day is 6th December) are all the same person to us. I remember being told that if I wasn’t good that I would get a piece of coal and no presents. I used to think that Santa must be very forgiving or completely senile because I never once found even the slightest trace of coal in my stocking on Christmas Day.

My first Swiss Christmas was great because of the whole variety of food that we had: Cheese Fondue with lashings of garlic on Christmas Eve, Mongolian Topf for Christmas Dinner and Fondue Chinoise for Boxing Day.

I know that this year I will most likely be eating the same meat (in our house normally beef or lamb) for the next 3 days in sandwiches, cold meat platters, curries etc. But that’s ok because I am so looking forward to a lovely Christmas lunch. Christmas lunch is basically a Sunday Roast on a more epic scale. I can’t remember the last time I had a Sunday Roast. I am getting hungry just thinking about it.

But even if the Roast is burnt and the Brussel sprouts have been boiled within an inch of their life and I don’t get any Christmas presents because Santa has realised that I was actually very naughty in the summer of 1987, none of that really matters. What matters is the people sat round the table, the laughter that echoes around the house and the memories that we make together.

A Very Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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3 Things… Christmas Edition

20 Dec

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I stole this idea from Bev, so I can’t take credit for the concept but the contents are all mine. As Christmas is lurking around the corner, it seemed like a good idea to answer some questions all about Christmas…

3 Things I love about Christmas

  1. I’m not going to lie: the best thing about Christmas for an adult is not having to work or not having to work as much. Although I will be working between Christmas and New Year, I will have a lot less to do and won’t be under as much stress as the rest of the year. I sometimes find it a lot easier to get things done that I have been putting off for the end of the year and I can get myself ready for January, which, working in Finance, is always a busy time.
  2. Being able to stay inside without having to feel that you have to make an excuse to justify it. The weather is cold. It might be raining or snowing. This is the one time of the year when I can stay indoors and no one tells me that I should be outside and getting some fresh air. It’s nice and cosy inside and I like the feeling of know that I can lounge about and not feel guilty for not exercising for a few days of the year.
  3. Christmassy smells. Clementines, cinnamon, real Chrismtas trees, mulled wine. Nothing smells as good as Christmas.

3 Things I dislike about Christmas

  1. Asking someone what they would like for Christmas and them shrugging their shoulders and saying “Dunno. I don’t really want/need anything”. In fairness, I say this as well but it can add some pressure when you have no idea what to give someone and they also have no idea. I guess it means that you have no expectations to live up to but you can still end up disappointing someone.
  2. Commercialism. This was summed up for me about 2 weeks ago on Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich. I am not talking about the Chanel, Louis Vitton and Rolex shops with their overpriced  wares in the shop window (but they are overpriced and completely unjustifiable to any normal people, not just at Christmas but throughout the year). There is a sign on the street that changes every day. It’s 5 letters long and a different word appears each day. Two weeks ago, it simply send “SPEND”. I wanted to think that this was a tongue-in-cheek assessment of the time of year but I doubt that very much. To me, it was a declaration of what companies and businesses want consumers to do in the run up to Christmas.
  3. Having to feel happy. Christmas is not a happy time for everyone and it can bring sadness with it. An empty chair at the dinner table is a stark reminder of someone who is no longer here to share in the memories or a phone call never made to someone who we love but, for one reason or another, we are no longer talking to are two examples of occasions which can cause us to reflect and bring us sadness. We focus so much on what we want that it can make us focus on what we have lost and are unable to regain.

3 Favourite Christmas Movies

  1. Home Alone. The ultimate and the best.
  2. Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Steve Martin in his prime and a hilarious John Candy. Just thinking about this films makes me feel emotional.
  3. Love Actually. I think I have cried from the beginning, when Hugh Grant talks about love in airports all the way through to the end, when Bill Nighy is baring his backside because his song was Christmas Number 1.

3 Favourite Christmas Treats

  1. A warmed mince pie smoothered with brandy butter.
  2. Cheese board. My mum always buys a cheeseboard, although she says that she never knows why because no one ever eats it all. And it is always the same cheese that is left to the very end in our household. Wendsleydale with Cranberries always goes first and then the Red Leicester. But there is nothing as decadent as going to raid the fridge during the Christmas period and sitting down to watch a film with a selection of cheeses, pickled onions and a few crackers.
  3. An alcoholic drink that I never normally drinking during the rest of the year. Perhaps it will be a Bailey’s this year, or a Brandy or something completely different that has been lurking in the back of my mum’s cupboard all year.

3 Favourite Christmas Traditions

  1. Eating and drinking so much that I fall in front of the TV while watching a film. This happens every year. I normally wake up when someone decides to change the channel and I tell them not to because I was watching it!
  2. Having a buffet dinner on Christmas Eve night. Normally my mum put on a big spread with crisps, sandwiches, dips and party food. Just what you need before going to bed to wait for the Big Man to arrive on the next day.
  3. Leaving a mince pies out for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph. We always left something out and I was a bit sad when I grew up and I couldn’t do this any more. Now my niece and nephew are a bit older, the tradition is back up and running. I’m really looking forward to leaving the treats out for Santa and I might be fighting my brother for the dram of whisky that we leave out for him.

3 Favourite Christmas Songs

These are in no particular order…

  1. Mary’s Boy Child – Boney M
  2. The FairyTale of New York – The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. This reminds me of the Christmas we spent in Tenerife, when my and my brother (both quiet inebriated) sang this at karaoke and brought the house down – at least that was my recollection.
  3. Last Christmas – Wham. I always loved this song, now it makes me a bit sad because George Michael died on Christmas Day but I still love it.

3 Favourite Gifts Received

  1. My mountain bike – I can’t remember how old I was but I really want a mountain bike. I came downstairs very confident that I would see my bike because I had been such a good girl that year. When I didn’t see it, I burst into tears. The bike was actually in the garage because my parents hadn’t wanted to bring it into the house. I knew I had been a good girl all along.
  2. My CD player and Gladiators CD – again I have no idea how old I was but I was thrilled to get my CD player. The added bonus was the Gladiators CD that I found in the bottom of my stocking. If you don’t know what Gladiators was, it was THE best programme on Saturday night and was on after Baywatch and before Blind Date, I think. I always had ambitious to go on that show. Alas, it was cancelled well before I was eligible to go on the show.
  3. My cash till. I played for hours and hours, and I mean hours and hours, with that till. I used to get my mum’s shopping out and till everything up. This was when barcodes weren’t widely used and the sticker was on the tin or packet. I also made cheque books and credit cards and I used to make my brother pretend to be customers. No wonder I ended up working in Finance. I have loved money for a long time.

3 Gifts I want to give the World

  1. Understanding. I think, if people were able to understand other people’s cultures, lives and motivations that the world would be a better place to live it. Often people are misunderstood or people have no intention of understand and learning about other people and their cultures. Also understanding of our effect on other’s and the planet is something that I would gift, if I could. Although we think that we are so advanced in our understanding today, it many areas, I feel that we understand very little.
  2. An appreciate of Health. Although health care and medical breakthroughs seem to be on the rise, lots of people forget that without your health you have nothing. How many people are stress out and not able to enjoy life? How many people give their own health second priority? Without our health and access to health care, we wouldn’t be here and that is a very limiting factor if we want to achieve things.
  3. Fun. Far to often, the fun of life is weaned away from us. As we grow up, we are programmed to have less fun. Children today have fun snatched away from them too soon in their childhood. I blame Health and Safety mostly. Life should be fun because we are only here once. We might as well have fun while we are here.

The arrival of winter

9 Dec

Winter has finally arrived and not just because real Christmas trees are now being sold on every corner that you turn. It has snowed. I did snow a few weeks ago but only a light covering that started to come down early in the evening and had disappeared almost as quickly as it arrived. But it looks like the snow has finally decided it is going to stay.

Last night we were working in the office until late to hit our deadline for the last month of the year. I had had a bad feeling about it all week and when, on Thursday we had a technical issue that brought a 10 hour delay, I was fearing the worst.

However, we caught up and apart from a few hiccups on the way, we were finished around 10pm on Friday evening. I was over the moon, as I had expected to be working until about midnight or later. We had finally done it. The last month end close of 2017. Home before the witching hour. Yes!

But oh no! Having been firmly fixed on our computer screens for 15 hours, we had failed to notice that the snow had come down. I’m not sure if there is such a thing as torrential snow but this was something like it. Ok, I have my hat, boots and a big winter jacket (I actually call it my football manager’s jacket because can be found in the wardrobe of any self-respecting Premier League coaching staff member), I thought. I can do snow.

Then news somehow filtered into the office – I still have no idea how, as there were only 10 of us left in a building for eight thousand –  that there had been a accident and none of the trams were running from our offices into town. Great. This was not in the script. I was meant to be home in an hour. This was looking increasingly unlikely.

I left with the plan to walk to the nearest train station, get a train from there to the main station and then get my usual train home. I start walking and I see a tram drive past. Hang on, didn’t someone say that the trains weren’t running? But that was a tram and it was definitely running.

I jogged to the next stop to get the next tram that was making its way down the hill. I looked like Bambi on ice. I had to get a bit of speed up to make the next tram but I wanted to avoid falling flat on my face even though no one would be around to see my embarrassment. I made it! Great not long and I would be at the main station and I just have to wait for the train.

The tram didn’t move for about 5 minutes. Then the driver said that there were two other tram stuck in front of him and he didn’t know when we would be able to get moving again. He left the doors open so that anyone who wanted to get off could do.

I decided it could be ages before we set off again so I got out and headed on foot to the train station that would take me to the main station. I was glad that I did. Not only had 2 cars collided just next to the train station but there was also a bus that had managed to crash into a lamp post and was blocking all trams going up and down.

Luckily, the train arrived just as I was climbing up the steps to the station. I had to wait for half an hour at the main station but at least I knew I wasn’t too far from home.

By the time, I got home the snow was really deep. As most people were inside or already asleep, I had the privilege of being the first one to walk through the newly fallen snow. I love that crunch sound that comes from under foot and being able to look behind me to see the footsteps in the snow. It was clear that this snow was here to stay.

Today it has continued to snow. I’m happy that I don’t have to work or use public transport and I can watch the winter wonderland from the comfort of my home.

Food, food, food

30 Dec

I was expecting my first Christmas in Switzerland to be lacking in one area. Food. British Christmas are less a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ who died to save us all and more a competition to see how much of the food, that we buy for the four day Christmas break, we can actually manage to get through.

I remember back in the days when I worked for Tesco and at Christmas time I witnessed fights over the last piece of brie on the cheese counter and tears that the last of the mince pies have been sold on a daily basis.

Here I can honestly say that there is a lot less stress around cooking. Christmas Eve was time for cheese fondue. Easy to prepare: melted cheese, with some wine and garlic mixed in. The most stressful thing about this dish is wondering if the pieces of bread you are cutting are too big or too small.

Christmas Day was Mongolian Pot. A bouillon or stock is boiled and vegetables and noodles. You fish out the cooked vegetables from the bouillon using a little net and cook your own meat in the bouillon using a fork. There are also pickles, olives, a variety of different sauces to choose from as well. It all tastes delicious.

Boxing Day was Fondue Chinoise. This is sort of the same as the Mongolian Pot but there are no vegetables being cooked in the pot. Vegetables and other “side dishes” are served in addition to the meat that you cook in the bouillon with your own fork.

No stress at all. It seems like the British are somehow doing this Christmas thing wrong. You invite your guests, chop up the vegetables and they cook it for themselves. What could be more simple?

In summary, the food was not lacking in any shape or form. It was great. It was quite nice as well, not to have to be eating 3 day old turkey in a sandwich/curry/stew* (*delete as appropriate).

I did manage to make my own mince pies. I bought the mincemeat for the img_4282filling at around August time when I was in the UK for a visit. The pastry was shop bought but I was very impressed with the outcome. See for yourself here.

A Christmas with Swiss traditional food as well as one of my favourites from home (perhaps I can squeeze a few more in next year). I am kind of sick of the sight of food now and I have been taking it easy in terms of food consumption between Christmas and New Year. But the eating will start again tomorrow with Raclette which is my favourite of favourites and probably will be when I eat my weight in melted cheese and potato.

January will be on us then and that is when the real hard work beginning with the New Year Diet.

Merry Christmas, dear Reader!

24 Dec

I would like to wish all of the readers of my blog, whether I know you personally or not, a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog and read about the thoughts and experiences that I have had. I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it. I hope you continue to visit in 2017 as I aim to continue with the frequency of the last 3 months of 2016.

Wishing you a peaceful time, wherever you are and whoever you are with and All the Best in 2017.

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First Christmases

22 Dec

This Christmas is a Christmas of firsts: my first ever, real Christmas tree and my first Christmas in Switzerland.

Growing up we always had an artificial tree and I have always dreamed of a real Christmas tree. There is a small farm not too far up the road so we went there and picked out a tree. The only problem is that when you look around at the trees and they are standing proudly outside, they look a lot smaller than they do when you get them home and have to find a place for it to go. We did choose the smallest one we could find but it is quite wide at the bottom so it takes up quite a bit of space in the living room.

After the purchase of the Christmas tree, we went to eat fondue. The farm has a Fonduestube (stube: a small hut or place where food and drinks is normally served) and we got a free glass of Glühwein as a thank you for buying the tree. The little problem was carrying the thing home, down quite a big hill, in the dark, after quite a few drinks. All’s well that ends well though.

My other first is spending Christmas in Switzerland for the first time. Normally, I make the trip home for the festive period. At my previous employers, there was a complete shut down between Christmas and New Year so I could book my flights home in June (or early) knowing that I had the time off. But that isn’t the case at my new employer.

In addition, there is a funny system in Switzerland that I still haven’t got my head around and which I complain about on a regular basis. Here if a bank holiday falls on a weekend, you don’t get the time off. In England, a bank holiday on the weekend means that you are entitled to another day off in lieu, normally on the Monday. So this year is particularly bad because Christmas Day is a Sunday so we only get the Monday (Boxing Day) as a holiday. I can only say that the idea that Europeans get more holidays than in the UK is a christmas-tree-christmas-1796131_1920.pngmisconception.

Apart from one year when we had a family holiday to Tenerife at Christmas, I have spent every Christmas in England. The holiday in Tenerife was a little bit strange – swimming, BBQ and karaoke as Christmas Day activities. This year it will be Fondue Chinose and no Queen’s speech.

I was beginning to regret not coming home for Christmas a few weeks ago but with reports of Storm Barbara on the rampage, I am better staying put and not travelling during the worst of it. Better to be prepared for not going home than to be expecting to go home and then the flight is cancelled because of bad weather. Or worse, the flight isn’t cancelled and the flight experiences extreme turbulence.

Besides, with Facetime I can still see my family for Christmas even though it is not the same at being there in person. And, I will be flying home in January anyway, when I hope the weather will be more favourable to travellers!

 

 

Christmas Crackers

9 Dec

What is it about Christmas that makes people go positively, absolutely and utterly, stark-raving bonkers? It seems like a stereotypical thing to have a moan about around the first week of Christmas but it is true and, therefore, in my mind it is completely justified.

One of the things that I like about living in Switzerland is that there is no 24-hour trading. ball-65825__340A lot of expats that I know think that I am a bit crazy for being of this opinion. No 24-hour trading means no shops open after 21h, as a general rule, and no shops are open on Sundays. Except for Christmas.

In the four Sundays before Christmas the shops are open for a full days trading and the way people act you would think that it was the last shopping opportunity before 2020 arrives. It’s hysteria. In the main streets, people don’t look where they are going or dilly-dally when you are trying to get somewhere quickly. Children are either crying because they are cold and tired or they are wired up to the eyeballs after having far too much sugary treats. You get slapped around the face by someone’s shopping bag as they throw the thing over their shoulder with complete disregard for any other human beings existence, so don’t be surprised when the uttering of an embarrassed “sorry” is not forthcoming.

People buy far too much than they (or their loved ones) want or need. But it’s Christmas, isn’t it? Guilt or cunning marketing, or a disastrous combination of both, infiltrate the average shopper’s brain and hey-pesto! The retailers end up with record sales growth and we just feel overindulgded.

There is some discussion over where 24-hour trading will come to Switzerland in the near future. I sincerely hope it doesn’t. If there is any one not convinced, I suggest you take a walk down Banhofstrasse on a weekday evening or on the weekend and then see what you think!