Thursday, December 21, 2006

What if it doesn't snow on Christmas?

Last night, as we were preparing for bed, His Holiness looked up from his pillow, his eyes were blood-red and puffy, his nose was running, he had a fever and a cough and he was constipated, but instead of whimpering or crying or doing any of a number of normal things a very sick little three-year-old might do, he asked me a question. “Will Santa Claus come to Oma’s if it doesn’t snow?”

I was so surprised at his question I didn’t have a ready answer. We will be spending Christmas with his Grandmother (“Oma” in German) in the Eifel, a region of Germany known to most Germans for it’s scenic beauty and to rock climbers and mountain bikers for it’s rough terrain. It’s also a good deal higher in elevation than Cologne and the chances are slim, but possible, that we might see a little snow on the big day. I assured HH that nothing would prevent Santa from finding him, or any other good little boy or girl, wherever they might be on Christmas, even if they weren’t at home and even if it wasn’t snowing.

Like every other child in Germany HH sees images of Santa in snow-covered landscapes on television, in print advertisements and in department store window displays. There is Santa and his reindeer, all decked out in their Christmas best sailing across the crisp white countryside. It never occurred to me that he might be thinking about weather contingencies, but it seems that he has been giving the subject a great deal more thought than I imagined. It speaks to his growing up I think, to the fact that he spends most of his day now in kindergarten with other children and with other adults, and they talk about things, about Christmas and food and the potty – these are the big issues in our house right now and it shouldn’t be surprising to me that the other three and four-year-olds in the kindergarten are talking about them too.

It’s odd, experiencing Christmas in another country. If we were back in New York I’d know just what to do. On Christmas Eve I would take HH to Gramercy Park, where each year the gates to the most private of all Manhattan parks open for one night and carolers gather round and sing familiar songs in the cold night air. When I was younger and single and the neighborhood was a bit less gentrified than it is today, we would follow up our evening of holiday song with an evening of strong Martinis at the bar of Gramercy Park Hotel. Regrettably, for me at any rate, the Gramercy has been “renovated” and is now in the hands of the terminally slick.

Gone are the short Spanish barmen with disinterested eyes and stale red jackets, who delivered good cheap cocktails and bowls of bar nuts to locals and visitors alike, seven days a week for as long as I lived in New York – which was a long damn time. I would probably have taken HH into the Gramercy and ordered a water for him while I fortified myself for the walk home. At some point we would have visited the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, although traveling that far uptown for just the tree wouldn’t have justified the altitude change and I would likely have taken him over to the Oak Room Bar at the Plaza Hotel for a hamburger. He loves hamburgers and I love the Oak Room. Radio City, Lincoln Center, BAM, we would probably have sprung for one big night out with the swells. And that would be a Christmas I could understand, and one I think he would enjoy. He was too young to appreciate the only Christmas he spent in Manhattan. I did read him “Twas the Night Before Christmas” just about every night from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve but I don’t know if it has had any lasting impression. I like to think that his present concern for snow springs from these early days, but the adult in me (struggling as he is to get a sober word in now and then) doubts it.

No, I expect HH is drawing on his experiences here in Germany now, his compatriots at school, the little folk on TV who speak a language I still don’t understand well enough and his German kin, who sing to him and tell him stories and teach him by example about Christmas in the New Old World.

Merry Christmas!

© Berlinbound 2006