“Eine briefmarke aus Samiclaus bitte.” One stamp for Santa Claus please.
That was me (yes I know, speaking German!) in the Post Office. Attempting to buy a stamp to post the children’s letters to Father Christmas. I say attempting because the lady just laughed at me, before spending a good ten minutes trying to decide how much to charge me as the address we had written was, of course, The North Pole. Surely we aren’t the only family in Switzerland that sends a letter to Santa in the hope that the kindly old gent would send a response (I mean Royal Mail always seemed to deliver a response).
Christmas, as we all know, is now just around the corner. The children have been through the toy catalogues with a fine toothed comb, the letters have now been sent (for future reference it cost 1.40chf) and I have avidly watched the Christmas adverts for John Lewis, Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury’s. Now, I don’t care what anyone says but, in my opinion, the Sainsbury’s advert wins hands down. A stroke of genius to collaborate with the Royal British Legion in this landmark year of remembrance (100 years since WW1 commenced) and if I was in Frome I’d be trotting over to our local store to purchase the £1 bar of chocolate in support. To be honest (and I’m going to say this very quietly) I have never really understood the John Lewis ads. I mean how on earth does a story about a penguin, or a travelling snowman for that matter, sell anything apart from stuffed toys. Come on, it’s a department store, what about the thousands of other products available in store? At least with the M&S fairies you get a sense of the products available and whether you might actually find the right gift for your nearest and dearest. (Clearly my Marketing allegiance is firmly in the product and not the Brand camp this year). What the Sainsbury’s ad has done though is challenge our perception of what an advert should look like, what it should be communicating about the brand or organisation that it is promoting. Addressing the bigger issues and emotions which, in our increasingly cynical world, is becoming more and more difficult to market. I expect to see a lot more philanthropic collaborations being advertised on our TV screens. After all, it says more about the values and ethics of an organisation than any air brushed images of family gatherings.
I have digressed (slightly) though my rantings have given me an excellent opportunity to squeeze in a Dr Seuss quote…
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”
This will be our first Christmas in Switzerland, our first as an expat family, our first with no family celebrations other than those that we create together. I feel that we need the snuggly blanket of familiarity wrapped around us and I am therefore keen to retain our own traditions. I know, I know. I can hear my brother now: “when in Rome, Sarah. When in Rome.” So, I know. I should be embracing the local traditions; go to midnight mass, celebrate the arrival of the Christkindl on Christmas Eve, cook a fondue, eat Ringli and drink plenty of Gluhwein. But I can’t.
I’m sorry, I just can’t put my little family, or myself through more change this year. So I will spend the next four weeks trying to establish whether the church in Steinhausen will be holding a service on Christmas Day – will it matter if it’s in German? Or, as I hope, will the very act of going be enough to act as a touch point for our celebrations? I will be doing my damnedest to find all the trimmings for a traditional English Christmas Dinner (Steve’s trip to Dubai has been a surprising source for mincemeat – that’s the sweet, spicy mix of sultanas, raisins etc not minced meat just to clarify). Then on The Day we will be quaffing champagne from 10am and resorting to the BBC’s Christmas TV bonanza once the excitement of present opening has subsided.
Let’s face it though, Christmas is not just one day is it? I mean, it has it’s own season! Thanks to clever Marketeers, Christmas has become the all encompassing Holiday Season that kicks off with Thanksgiving and Hanukkah and culminates in New Year celebrations. This is where the lines blur for me, and I get lost in the modern commercialism of finding the perfect gift, or the desperate if-I-don’t-get-that-I’m-going-to-die longing that seems to take over even seemingly grounded individuals. But this year, perhaps because of our new expat status, perhaps because of a subconscious reaction to Sansbury’s statement of truth that “Christmas is for Sharing”, or perhaps because last Christmas we were on the brink of separation. This year, I am going to pull myself out of the heady commercialism and make sure that I take time to evaluate our year, celebrate our achievements and re-connect with my friends and family. And do you know what else? I will even introduce a new tradition this year – video calling our loved ones, because what is the Christmas story about if not love and family?
I would love to hear about your Christmas traditions, leave me a comment…
If your children are yet to send their letters to Father Christmas and you are in the UK please note that the address that should get a response is: Santa’s Grotto, Reindeerland, XM4 5HQ. Don’t forget to include your name and address or to put a stamp on the envelope! Also they must be received by 6th December otherwise Santa is a bit busy…