The One Party You Don’t Want An Invite To: The German Work Christmas Party

Fun and games at the German Work Christmas Party.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The British work Christmas party typically involves two things; alcohol and sexual shenanigans between people who shouldn’t be having them. So I had high hopes of finally seeing some Germans shed their inhibitions and – dare I say it – lose control when I was invited to a German work Christmas party last year.

How wrong I was.

The first thing that should have told me this was that I was invited at all. For I am just the partner of someone else who works for this company. Partners, at a work Christmas party? These annoying specimens don’t even get a look in at the English work Christmas party. There are two reasons for this: One is that companies claim they can’t afford to invite partners of employees anymore, particularly after the credit crunch (which never existed in mega-rich Bavaria).  The second and real reason is that there’s no way Fred in accounts could finally get his dirty way with Jane from Human Resources if his wife was there, could he?

The second thing that screamed “this is going to be The Worst Christmas Party Ever” is that there were CHILDREN there. Honestly. Children at a work Christmas party. At that point I guessed there wasn’t going to be any cocaine or strippers either then. Oh God.

All work Christmas parties vary in England. I have been to ones in pubs, clubs, bars, the work canteen, you name it. But in all cases everyone gets rip-roaring drunk, women in slutty, ill-fitting dresses dance to bad music and there is plenty to gossip and laugh about the next day.

English women on their way to the work Christmas party.

When we arrived at the Worst Christmas Party Ever however, there was no music. A small group of people were stood awkwardly around a table in the boss’ showroom, which had been stylishly turned into a pretty winter wonderland. That’s right – no traffic light-style disco lights here.

Whoop whoop!

None of the women were in slutty dresses either. Instead they were wearing Jack Wolfskin t-shirts tucked neatly into khaki-style trousers. And there was to be no dancing around handbags tonight – for these lot had brought their rucksacks. We were going on a hike afterwards or something? I manually adjusted the hem on my little dress by yanking it down a bit, and wished I had at least put a vest top on under the laciness of my dress and over my bra. Then I prayed there would be no hike.

German women on their way to the work Christmas party

The Worst Christmas Party Ever consisted of the boss, Ludwig, a successful young family man with long floppy hair and one of the biggest smiles I had ever seen. Then there was his wife along with their two young children who clearly didn’t want to be there either. Then there was Gert, my partner’s colleague and his wife, both aged in their fifties. Gert is from the former communist East Germany, so you can forgive him for being a bit weird. Then there was the apprentice, Stefan, who stank of B.O. and had the social skills of an ape. Then there was the straight-laced secretary, Hilda, who had brought her nine-year-old daughter along. This was going to be a long night.

Sensing this too, the boss’ children suddenly started acting ill and their mother had to leave and take them home. The rest of us sat down to eat a beautiful meal prepared perfectly by some local caterers, albeit in the quietest and most awkward surroundings ever. It didn’t help that my German at this stage was at the same level of the average German two-year-old’s, which made it very hard to join in any conversation that did dare to take place. No one seemed to speak English because, well, this is rural Bavaria where people speak a funny form of German. As many expats will know, you often feel like a deaf mute in these situations.

One thing that did shatter the awkward silence however was the secretary’s daughter sat next to me. She ate and ate as though she had never seen food before. She pigged out so much that her podgy little stomach couldn’t handle anymore, and she started – wait for it – farting. As she was sat next to me though no one could really tell who had let out the farts, despite my obvious ‘you just farted!’ glances I threw hastily in her direction. She just sat there seemingly oblivious to her torrential gas situation. The little bitch.

After the most excruciatingly long few hours of my life, the Worst Christmas Party Ever was finally over. No one got that drunk, no one fell over, no one made a fool of themselves to YMCA on the dance floor, and on one shagged someone they shouldn’t have. But in typical German style the food and hospitality was amazing and no one lost their dignity, jobs, or knickers down some cold alleyway somewhere on the way home. Boring!

Unfortunately the following day everyone who had been at the Worst Christmas Party Ever came down with a vomiting virus so severe we were all chucking our guts up for two days. The little girls who had been taken home ill by their mum got it from school first, then their mother must have picked it up from them before passing it on to all of us by handling our cutlery before we ate.

And that’s why kids really shouldn’t be at Christmas parties. One because they are farty and annoying, and two because they carry disease-ridden germs most of the time.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful. It was very nice of the boss to invite us and feed us all with such lovely food. But I really hope we don’t get an invite again this year.

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Christmas Spirit Bavarian style

Germans love planning and preparation. No where is this more evident than during the festive season, when Germans seem to enjoy getting ready for Christmas more than celebrating the big day itself. Cute traditions swarm Bavaria at this time of year and are guaranteed to get even the biggest Scrooge into the Christmas spirit. Here are my top 5 Bavarian Christmassy thingies.

1. Biscuits galore – not Jaffa Cakes.

Bavarian biscuits home-made by my German in-laws

Bavarian biscuits home-made by my German in-laws

Bavarian housewives are baking crazy at the best of times. But in December they become total baking maniacs, who froth at the mouth while making the finest home-made biscuits you’ll ever set your tongues on. The beauties – often made with cinnamon and coconut – are baked from the very start of December, not just in the days before Christmas. Pay a visit to a Bavarian family home during this month and you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled upon a biscuit factory. If you banked on pigging out on Christmas Day and watching your diet for the rest of the month, then well, you’re literally stuffed.  If you’re offered these exquisite delicacies, saying no is not an option. Doing so is considered ruder than pooing on the hallway rug. If you want to create the illusion of being the perfect Bavarian housewife when you’re not, then fear not, because the biscuits are sold at the Christmas markets for a very reasonable price.

2. The Advent candle wreath. Home-made of course and not from the Bavarian equivalent of Homebase.

Another popular tradition harking back to Bavaria’s religious roots is the Advent candle wreath. You won’t find many lights switched on in Bavarian homes in December as most will have one of these burning away  somewhere. The evergreen wreaths usually have four or five candles. One is lit each week from the start of Advent on November 30, with the final lit on Jesus’ birthday – Christmas Day.

3. The Christmas Markets. Bavaria at its best.

Christmas market food stall

Christmas market food stall

Pretty, atmospheric and ever so Christmassy, the stunning Christmas markets spring up in almost every village, town and city from the end of November. They’re a great place to stock up on gifts and/or line your stomachs with food and alcohol. It’s a good job the markets exist too. Shop opening hours in small-town Bavaria are hit and miss to say the least, thanks to the distinct lack of recession here. All shops except those at petrol stations close on Sundays. Then most shut early on a Saturday (even the Saturday just before Christmas, as I found out the hard way last year). Many also close on Wednesdays, and also for about two hours at lunchtimes on the days they finally do open. So if you live outside of Munich, work normal hours and fancy a lie-in on a Saturday, then you’re totally buggered for getting any shopping done.

Therefore the Christmas markets are more of a saviour than Christ himself. They tend to open late afternoons and even encourage the lazy shop-owners nearby to stay open for a bit longer. I love the way Bavarian shopping streets are so  traditional, diverse and individual, unlike the monotonous high streets overtaken by chains that blight England. If German high streets want to fight off online competition and avoid the same fate, then shops need to open more. Rant over.

4. St Nicholas. Like Santa but earlier and with an evil helper.

Nederlands: Sinterklaas tijdens het Het Feest ...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

On December 6, German children wake and eagerly check the shoes they left outside their door the evening before. If they were good, they will contain small presents. But if they were bad, they’ll find a lump of twigs where their toes should go. St Nicholas, a bishop celebrated for his good deeds, is the man responsible for rewarding the well-behaved kids. But his evil helper, Knecht Ruprecht, punishes the naughty ones with the twigs. Apparently most children are extremely scared of Knecht, and I often wonder if any parents are mean enough to put twigs in their kids’ shoes instead of say, an iPhone 5 (Bavarians are pretty rich). Ironically, St Nicholas was born a Greek. If he really were real, I doubt he would be rewarding German children today in the current economic climate.

5. Mistletoe. Really does grow on trees.

So this isn’t really a Bavarian tradition as such, but Bavaria has changed the way I look at mistletoe forever. I grew up seeing mistletoe as a tiny branch we brought for £2 at Christmas time from the local garden centre. Never once did I contemplate how mistletoe looked in the wild. In Bavaria, once the leaves have completely fallen off the trees, you can see mistletoe growing in them all over the countryside. From a distance they look like large birds’ nests. In fact, mistletoe is a parasitic plant, which can kill host trees. Sometimes you’ll see 20 of these bunches in a single tree. Now I realise we were completely ripped off paying £2 for such a tiny amount of mistletoe back in the UK, when you can climb a tree in Bavaria and get a huge bunch for free! Christmas kisses really should be available to all.

Go Small Town Bavaria for the Best Xmas Markets

Star Lanterns

Nuremberg and Cologne may boast Germany’s most popular Christmas markets, but for a more authentic experience head off the beaten track and you’ll be rewarded with some real gems.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas practically every Bavarian town and village hosts its own Christmas market. Historic castles, beer gardens, town squares, quaint high streets and church grounds all over the land are transformed into picturesque Christmas scenes. The markets are so prevalent that you could easily visit a few different ones each week throughout December without travelling more than 10 miles. They range in size from a few stalls set up over one weekend to those with a good 20 traders operating every day for a few weeks. Each one is different in its own way. But at every market you will certainly find locals huddled around sipping mugs of Glühwein (translates as ‘glow wine’, a German mulled wine) and feasting on waffles, crepes and Bratwurst sausages. In fact many Bavarians seem to go to the markets mainly to drink and eat rather than shop. The goods on offer can vary, which is why I find it’s better to visit a few of the smaller Christmas markets rather than relying on one for finding everything you need.

Steamy Gluhwein!

Steamy Gluhwein!

One of my favourites is in a town called Diessen on The Ammersee. Its one-weekend-only market is small, incredibly festive, and extremely cosy and cute. Stalls lit up by fires and fairy lights sell hand-crafted goods such as woolly hats, soaps, candles, and wooden decorations. A team of blacksmiths showcase their art under the eerie lights of the imposing baroque-style church. And shoppers sipping on mulled wine sing Christmassy songs around a campfire (in German of course – not quite the same, but still). It’s definitely one of the prettiest Christmas markets I’ve been to. Another personal favourite is in a historic town called Landsberg on Germany’s famous Romantic Road. The market – held throughout December – is set around a large square lit up by a Christmas tree in the middle. The wooden stalls spill out onto the cobbled high street, teamed with its high and narrow, colourful buildings. Too pretty for words – especially when covered in snow.

Traditional Christmas market food stall

Traditional Christmas market food stall

When I lived in England, I relied mainly on the big high street names for my Christmas shopping. The Christmas markets in Bavaria have taught me a valuable lesson. Even though they’re all different, they all support small, independent craftsman and businesses selling unique, quality goods. Real people creating real things. I know who I’d rather see my hard-earned pennies go to at Christmas- or at any time of the year! Just be sure to visit one the markets at dusk. When they’re all lit up in the dark it really adds to the atmosphere.

Landsberg Xmas Market

Landsberg Xmas Market