So greetings again from here in Germany. Today I’m going to share with you a little bit about the different Birthday traditions here in Germany. Ok as a foreign country, you expect some traditions to be done differently; like Christmas on the 24th not 25th of December (shock horror) or maybe celebrating things only specific to the history of the country (try explaining Bonfire Night), BUT you would have thought Birthdays are pretty standard. Most of it is in Germany, for example there is cake (hurrah) and presents (phew!) and parties (nice) but there is also a difference, and it is a difference of perspective.
In my years growing up in Britain birthdays meant that you got to wish for what you wanted and pretty much design your dream day, or if not the whole day, then maybe a nice dinner at least. You can choose a restaurant to meet at or have your nearest and dearest cook your favorite meal. It is nice because you get spoiled, and if you’re lucky they will clean up or pay for your meal too. Hurray. Of course for the people getting invited to your Birthday and maybe many Birthdays, this can get a little expensive, but hey it is your Birthday and they love you.
So what is different here? Well, from what I have experienced in the 10+ years I have lived here, is that Birthdays are flipped around a little here. If you want to go to that new, fancy restaurant, then you better save your pennies because you will be “inviting” (I.e paying) for everyone in your party unless you make it pretty clear beforehand that this is not the case. If this is too pricey and you decide to host at home, then get ready for a busy day, because you will be shopping, cleaning and serving up your guests most of the day before falling into bed at the end of it.
I’ll admit, for the first few years here, it seemed pretty rubbish. I really missed just being able to choose a nice place and receive lovely gifts, wander home in a happy cloud and be thankful for a lovely day. My husband and his family felt bad, and we even tried a couple of times to do it the “British way” so they would prepare for me etc. but it all felt a little bit foreign.
Just last year, I had a change of heart, and perspective. You see I am not the only one who finds it pretty exhausting to host the hundreds on your special day, and I realized that people were putting off their Birthdays and not celebrating because they felt that they could not or would not host for family and friends. Instead, they were just hiding and avoiding it. How sad! I tried to convert them to a British way of thinking, but it is too ingrained in the culture here to be taken seriously. But as well as them being sad, I realized that I was sad too because I wasn’t able to spend some time with this cool person on their day without being a burden. As I thought about this, I realized too that it was sad, that I couldn’t show them this until it hit me that I could…..on MY Birthday. It was like discovering the true meaning of Birthdays (ok a little overdone, but an eye opener at least). Instead of it being all about me, and seeing everything else like a burden, I decided to see it as a chance to spoil them people who are good to me all the time. I realized that they were coming, not to enjoy the wonderful culinary talents (of my husband), but to see me and spend their time with me, so serving them was actually a nice way of balancing this out.
You will not be shocked to know that it does not mean that my baking skills improved (still much love for Dr. Oetke) but it did mean that I actually look forward to my Birthday now and think about how I can spoil my guests a little. Ok, I don’t take them all out to a fancy restaurant because as well as being expensive, it is also like an Olympic sport with young children, but I do cook, bake, clean and prepare for them coming with enjoyment and not resentment. This may all be pretty obvious to you, but for me, it was a big step in finding myself here in a different culture and finding the golden lining in my cloud. Sadly, my Birthday is now over, but if you have time next year feel free to come over (for a civilized dinner, not a FB house party). Don’t bring anything, just an empty stomach.