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What Does The Holiday Spirit Feel Like Abroad?

by Nathalie V. Fairbanks

The year-end holidays carry a particular "flavor" with them, one that affects all senses: traditional holiday dishes, Christmas carols (in my tradition), decorations, the Christmas tree, smells of cinnamon and home-baked cookies, and velvety decorations all around.

If there's one thing that I am very attached to, it's Christmas tradition. I remember the first time I spent Christmas with my husband's family in the United States--what a culture shock! I thought I was pretty familiar with American culture after living in New York City for six years. Well, I found myself completely disoriented and feeling out of place because everything felt so foreign and "wrong."

So if you are in a foreign country over the holidays, make it easy on yourself and bring just one little reminder from home, something that embodies the spirit of the holiday for you. Then dive into what your host country has to offer!

If you're celebrating at home but would like to get a taste of how your new country does celebrate the holidays, I'd recommend you do three things:

1. Try a holiday recipe
2. Listen to a holiday CD
3. Participate in a holiday ritual (go to Midnight Mass, light Hanukkah candles, etc.)

Let's focus on #1 today. I want to share my very favorite kind of cookie recipe with you.

HaselnuŖplštzchen (Hazelnut cookies)

- 250 g sugar (250 g is about 1 cup, or half a pound)
- 250 g butter
- 250 g ground hazelnuts (filberts)
- 250 g all purpose flour
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup apricot or raspberry jam

In a mixing bowl, mix together butter and sugar. Add the egg. Then add the hazelnut meal and the flour. Knead it into a compact dough, then let it cool in the fridge for 1-2 hours. If the dough isn't cold enough when you cut out the cookies, they end up melting in the oven, and that's no fun! (Can you tell I've done that?) So make sure that the dough is nice and cold before you start rolling it out on your counter.

Cut bite-size round shapes with a cookie cutter. Bake them for 15 minutes at 175 - 195 degrees Celsius (that's 350 - 385 degrees Fahrenheit). They should be dark brown. The darker they are, the stronger the nutty flavor, but there's a fine line between dark and burned. Let them cool off on a cooling rack.

Optional: dip one side of each cookie in a plate of sugar while they're still hot. The sugar will stick to the "outside" of the cookie.

Once they're cooled off, spread a layer of jam on half of the cookies and stick the other half on to make a little sandwich.

A little cultural side-story: In Germany, we use a lot of hazelnuts and almonds in our baking. They're as common as peanuts are in the U.S. In fact, I remember how at one of the first Christmas parties I attended in South Carolina, I reached for a chocolate-covered cookie that looked enticing. What a shock to my senses to discover upon my first bite that it had a peanut butter filling! I do like peanuts, but I had never connected Christmas with peanuts before and it might take me another twenty years to make that connection. :)

If you're not into baking, you can get some of the German Christmas cookies online or at specialty stores. Trader Joe's carries my favorite kind, Lebkuchen, which is a type of ginger cookie covered with chocolate or sugar glaze. Here are a few pictures for your cookie orientation, and a few places to get them!

German Deli

German Foods

My Mom always made sure that all the cookies were ready by December 6th, which is "Nikolaustag" or St. Nicholas Day. Typically to celebrate this, on the evening of December 5th children set their shoes outside the window or by the door. If they have been good, Nikolaus stops by to fill their shoes with nuts, oranges and little presents. I don't need to tell you that I was always very excited on Nikolaustag!

Hopefully, you've been a good girl or boy this year and can expect some treats in your shoes on the morning of the 6th of December!

 

 

© 2008 Nathalie V. Fairbanks

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