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From cooking the right food to singing the sweetest carols to social distancing rules, the holidays are also a minefield that could easily turn that most wonderful time of the year into a rather chaotic affair. While various cultures celebrate Christmas with their own traditions, there are some general rules that apply — especially when it comes to food. Christmas is a time for aromatic, wintery comfort foods with lots of flavour and starch — whether you choose to celebrate on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
In Germany, for instance, the time leading up to Christmas is all about your sweet tooth. During the four weeks of Advent, people can enjoy St. Nicholas Day sweets, gingerbread houses, mulled wine at Christmas markets, Advent calendars filled with chocolate and Christmas gatherings involving lots of baked goodies.
Something fishy about Christmas
This might be one of the reasons why many people in Germany prefer to go for a "poor man's dinner" on Christmas Eve after weeks of syrupy indulgence. This usually consists of fried or cooked fish — typically carp — accompanied by a potato salad and sauerkraut.
The eating of fish is especially common among Catholics, for whom having light meals is a sign of fasting and reflection on important days in the church calendar. Many go for midnight mass on Christmas Eve, leaving dinner until afterwards; the thinking behind this is that you wouldn't really want to have a heavy meal at two in the morning.
Other families even find the preparation of fish too fussy and opt instead to replace the fish with sausage. After all, nearly everyone loves a good sausage in Germany. Indeed, statistically speaking, this is the most common item on the menu on Christmas Eve.
Wild goose chase for the perfect dinner
Others feel that the coming together of family over the holidays makes for a celebration, so they forego the German tradition of carp or sausage for the real deal: roast goose with all the trimmings.
This is a lavish meal that takes a lot of preparation, and normally features certain side dishes. Your bird is typically basted with herbs like marjoram and ingredients including onions, prunes and chestnuts. A gravy sauce is made from the juices dripping into a pan at the bottom of your oven as the goose roasts for hours.
This meal is accompanied by red cabbage as well as dumplings, which can be made either from potatoes or stale bread. Roast apples with lots of cloves can be added as another side-dish, though many people prefer this as a dessert.
Meanwhile, some households take a different yet equally traditional approach, presenting braised hare as their Christmas meal. The bunny involved is tenderized in wine for days before it gets boiled in spices and vegetables as a stew.
And for those who want to break with old traditions, there's the Swiss solution: Many Germans own the right crockery to make fondue or raclette over the holidays. Like fondue, raclette is a cheesy affair, but involves a base of cooked potatoes, followed by a lot of imagination. You can add anything from onions and cold meats to pineapple and even slices of bananas to your creation — as long as it's topped with stinky, stinky cheese.
This Swiss approach is usually accompanied with mulled wine or Jagertee — a potent tea mix featuring spices and copious amounts of rum.
Preparation is key
But with many foodies getting pickier, you might have to plan your menu well in advance, catering to the different tastes and dietary requirements of those at the dinner table.
Indeed, there are recipes for vegan goose involving tofu, lentils and other replacements, or you could use tempeh to get that gamey taste of braised hare. You can find vegan products at most supermarkets now if that's your idea of a good Christmas.
But it is unlikely that you will find a one-size-fits-all solution. If you want to be a hostess with the mostest, you may need to produce individual portions catering to unique needs instead of having one crowning centerpiece at your Christmas banquet.
Many Germans prepare the complicated dishes and freeze them in advance while catering to vegan and lactose intolerant Christmas revelers like myself on the day itself.
Meanwhile, there are other considerations beyond catering that are increasingly making the holidays a logistic nightmare for organizers. Is your wokeenvironmetalist relative reminding you of various pitfalls, such as the carbon footprint of candles? They're not exactly wrong: An average candle releases about 10 grams of CO2.
Try to accommodate them by perhaps going electric or battery-driven. You might, however, want to prepare for a discussion on the impact of batteries on nature — or a debate on whether gifts should be wrapped in non-recycled paper, or whether treess should be felled for decorating while the rainforest is dying.
In a situation like that, singing a Christmas carol might just lighten the mood. Who doesn't love a heart-warming holiday tune featuring lots of jingle bells on a silent night while sharing joy to the world?
When picking your playlist, however, you might want to filter out some of the songs and carols. For example, the conjured image of mommy kissing Santa Claus under the mistletoe could lead to lasting trauma for some.
The same advice goes for Christmas movies: there are some titles which may be difficult to pull off these days. Not everyone thinks that Ebenezer Scrooge deserves to redeem himself; and some have started picking up misogynistic undertones in classics like "It's a Wonderful Life."
In order to get everyone through 90 minutes of silver screen fun, consider having several options at the ready.
The COVID pandemic means there are even more things to consider. Every decent Christmas planner has to take social distancing rules and support bubbles seriously.
For starters, make sure that there is a mask for every chair at the table as well as plenty of hand sanitizer to go around. You might also want to insist on same-day COVID tests to be produced in order to minimize infection chains. You can send out little test kits along with your original invitations in the mail.
Ventilation might be difficult if the temperatures outside are around freezing, but some cold air is still better than catching the virus. And it's up to you to decide to exclude anyone who isn't vaccinated.
No Kissing Under The Mistletoe!
Also, try to stick to elbow bumps instead of hugs and kisses. And kissing underneath the mistletoe is a no-no until we get a firm and lasting grip on the pandemic situation. Instead of kisses, you can write notes and hang them on the branch, sharing compliments with your loved ones.
Most importantly, if you notice that you have stopped tasting and smelling while preparing the perfect braised hare or delicious carp, you'll likely have to call the party off and self-isolate over Christmas.
At least you'll have a selection of movies to watch and mulled wine to keep you warm.
Edited by: Louisa Schaefer
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