The weekend before Christmas, feeling somewhat guilty about not getting to it sooner, I walked down Christoph Straße in order to purchase my grandparents presents. My grandfather, an iconoclast in practically all matters, was rather difficult to shop for. Any material gift would be taken not as an act of kindness, but as being burdened by another bit of useless tat to add to his already uncomfortably large collection of tat. My blessed grandmamma was, as usual, far easier to buy a present for. A compulsive hoarder with a bitter sense of having wasted most of her 83 years, any unusual trinket she will appreciate. The search for a present for my grandfather concluded with the discovery of a small box of chocolates. For my grandmother, a Vietnamese coffee maker sufficed. My grandfather is not diabetic and he enjoys eating a piece of chocolate or two now and again. My grandmother has in recent months become overly fond of espresso and other strong coffees.
Christmas in Germany is a serious affair. My fitness centre has limited opening hours on Holy Night – 9 AM to 1PM. On Christmas and Boxing Days, 5 PM to 9 PM. The Holy Evening hours were made more tolerable by my already unusual waking hours. Due to time zone quirks, I wake up at 5 AM on Wednesdays in order to receive lessons from my favourite Japanese teacher. In the past, in the barbaric wilds of Canada’s less fortunate southern neighbour, receiving lessons from her was far more convenient as they occur at 5 PM and 6 PM Pacific Time. But, such things cannot be helped and having already become unable to take courses from two other beloved instructors. Parenthetically, one teacher is on extended maternity leave, the other – my absolute favourite whose loss brought me to a rather advanced state of emotional expression – resigned to take a full time position at another school in Hiroshima. Aside from that tangent, everything comes to a halt in the Federal Republic. Shops close or have limited hours, trains run – albeit empty and bakeries sell out of their wares quickly.
Per German tradition, I presented my grandparents with their presents on the evening of the 24th. My grandfather, slightly annoyed at having something forced on him, was greatly relieved to see that it was something small and edible that could be done away with entirely in due course. My beloved grandmamma was chuffed to bits with her new coffee apparatus. In fact, she has used it nearly every day since the 24th. For their part, they did not bother exchanging any gifts and I returned to my little hovel empty-handed.
The following day my older young paid a visit early in the afternoon. He’s the pleasant, congenial sort who will never amount to much but is usually a pleasant conversation partner. A few hours later he was joined by my younger aunt and her two sons, Blond Adonis and Terror Cousin. Terror Cousin came bearing the gift of two marzipan Wehinachtsstollen. As I was setting the table in another room, my aunt walked up to me and handed me €30. Being somewhat vexed by the inordinate fuss taking place only a few yards away, I gruffly thanked her and continued with my task. Throughout the evening a scenes of horror unfolded. Of the five able-bodied present, four wound up in physical altercations. My aunt and uncle spent the better part of an hour mocking and hitting each other in a no-longer endearing continuation of childhood feuds. Blond Adonis and Terror Cousin quickly took up arms against each other, something made less tolerable by the fact that Blond Adonis will turn 20 next month and Terror Cousin is still 11. It was also rather unfair to subject Terror Cousin to a barrage of parental, grandparental and avuncular condemnation for throwing food when the movement of food from said spoon to table was the result of being hit by his far stronger, bigger brother. Having witnessed the foul deed, I bided my time until Blond Adonis found himself in an awkward moment before revealing the sordid details.
By the time the four guests departed, the three of us were thoroughly exhausted and went to bed early. We agreed that we are simply too old for such things. Having recovered from the ordeal, I telephoned my aunt yesterday to invite her to coffee in the city. I felt a tinge of remorse for not having procured any gifts for her despite her generosity for both my birthday and Christmas and having taken me to and met me at airport twice in the last two months.