Christmastime has always held a special place in my heart, and it’s not just because of the presents. I grew up in a small town in Canada where all of the main streets and almost all of the houses would be decorated in Christmas lights and ornaments. There was also the annual Christmas town parade where Santa and his helpers would hand out candy canes and other sweets to the children waiting and watching on the side of the road.

Doing good things on Christmas

As a child, it was pretty much the best time of the year. I think for my parents, it represented both fun and work. On the one hand, it gave them the possibility to enjoy their children’s wonderment of the holiday season, and on the other hand, there was always a bit of work to do, like having to put the lights on the roof or fulfilling the daunting task of finding whatever gizmo, gadget, or newest toy craze we had on our wish lists.

My parents always believed in giving back to those less fortunate then ourselves, and Christmastime was always an extra special opportunity to do this. Throughout the year, my family would regularly visit an elderly gentleman who had no family and lived alone a few streets over. On Christmas Eve, my parents would cook enough food for two families, and before we would eat, we would pack up the second portion and once again make a visit to the kind elderly man. As a child, this formed a strong impression for me, and fortunately I have been able to continue the tradition of giving back with my job in Corporate Communications at MANN+HUMMEL.

Charitable activities at MANN+HUMMEL

At MANN+HUMMEL, giving back to our local communities is always a top priority. In 2014 for example, we organized donations for the flood catastrophe in Bosnia and also supported the local Children’s Hospital in Ludwigsburg. The Christmas season provides another great opportunity for the company and employees alike to take part in charitable activities. I was recently able to help with the organization of our annual Corporate Responsibility Christmas events, which included collaborating with local non-profit organizations. One of our events is the ‘Wish Tree’ – where our employees fulfill the Christmas wishes of local children.

Speaking of Christmas reminds me of Christmas markets – as a Canadian, I can tell you, they are one of the highlights for me during the Christmas season in Germany. We don’t have anything like it back where I’m from, and it’s so wonderful to visit these mini Christmas villages—each with its own individual flair—which pop up in almost every German city in December. Each stand is decorated in a unique way and sells special Christmas gifts – everything from decorations, to spices, to hand-knit hats and mittens. The markets really put you in the Christmas spirit with lights, decorations, and Glühwein, which is a popular warm spiced wine to help warm you up on the cold winter days.

Christmas traditions in Canada and Germany

There are a few other differences between German and Canadian Christmas traditions that I’ve noticed over the past four years of living in Southern Germany, and one of them is when you get to open your gifts, or in German, “Bescherung”. In Canada we open our gifts on the morning of the 25th; whereas in Germany the tradition is to open gifts on the evening of the 24th. The reason why we open our gifts in Canada on the 25th is, of course, because Santa has to visit your house on the evening of the 24th and delivers your gifts! What was also initially strange to me was that many Germans decorate the Christmas tree on the 24th or in the few days leading up to the 24th. In Canada, we tend to start putting up decorations closer to the beginning of December. My mom’s house, for example, becomes a second North Pole.

This actually reminds me of one of my favorite Christmas memories. On Christmas Eve in Canada, it is tradition that kids leave out milk and cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. When I was five years old I remember running down the stairs on Christmas morning to discover a pile of presents under the tree. Before we could get our hands on a gift, my dad called to us from the kitchen “kids, you have to come see this, come here quick!” My sister, brother and I all ran into the kitchen to discover that the cookies had been eaten, the milk glass was empty, and the carrots were gone. We couldn’t believe our eyes! “Look out the window!” my dad called. We ran over to the window and to our astonishment saw pieces of carrots in the snow. We excitedly put on our snowsuits, boots, hats and mittens and rushed outside, only to discover yet another surprise: boot prints and reindeer tracks on the roof. My siblings and I were thrilled by the evidence of Santa’s visit, and this memory remains one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

I’m certain each family, whether German or Canadian, has their own unique traditions. This is something I love so much about Christmas, and something I have been lucky enough to be a part of in two different cultures.

Having spent the last four years in Germany, I can say that one of the greatest similarities between Christmas in Canada and Germany is that spirit of giving and doing kind things for others. It is a time of year when people and companies all over the world count their blessings and give back to the community.