Growing up, I always thought my family was “normal” in regard to how we celebrate Christmas. Maybe we are. You tell me.
One thing that’s perhaps the teensiest bit odd about my family is that we’re fake Germans. I’m guessing that not everyone who lacks an actual ethnic identity simply co-opts one that’s convenient and attractive, but we have. My parents’ house is full of German knick-knacks, rustic alpine furniture, and yodeling albums. They drive German cars. We always say “Gesundheit” instead of “bless you” when somebody sneezes. In wintertime, my mom wears a Loden coat and my dad wears those boiled wool clogs. (Okay, I used to have a pair too.)
It’s not completely random though: my parents lived in Germany and Austria for a total of 15 years during the course of their military and government careers, so they were immersed in the culture for quite a while. One of my sisters was born in Heidelberg, and our whole family lived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen for four years when I was little.
That’s why for Christmas and other special occasions, and sometimes just for the heck of it, we break out the Wienerschnitzel. For those of you who live under rocks, Wienerschnitzel is essentially chicken fried steak, except it’s made with veal or pork. It’s a dish that’s sublime in it’s simplicity; just breaded, fried meat. But for some reason, there’s never enough, no matter how much you make.
That’s how “Hide the Schnitzel” came to be. There are two ways to win the game: 1) Pull out the portion of schnitzel you have secreted under the table or behind the credenza just as everyone else has finished their last bite; or 2) Reveal your secret schnitzel at breakfast the next day, in front of the poor suckers stuck eating Brötchen and Wurst.
One of the most daring gambits anyone made in this game was when my sister somehow managed to smuggle some schnitzel into a cracker box. And it would have worked, had I not become suspicious when I saw the Saltines box in the fridge, opened it, and devoured the contents on the spot.
“Hide the Schnitzel” is, in fact, quite similar to another Christmas tradition I grew up with, in which family members stash our own unopened presents around the living room, so that when the unwrapping orgy is over, we can say, “Oh…what’s this? I overlooked one!” and gloat about being the only one with any presents left.
The motivation for these games is akin to that most German of emotions, Schadenfreude; but instead of taking joy at someone else’s shame, it involves the joy of having something that no one else has anymore. In German, it would be “Keinanderemehrbesitzenfreude.”
How about your family? Do you have weird Christmas traditions, or are you normal, like us?