On Sunday, December 11, The Goethe Institute hosted a Christmas party at Meta House to celebrate the German Christmas tradition a bit early.
On hand were Eva Pritscher, coordinator and manager of the Goethe Institute, her assistant Prum Sokna and Goethe Institute German language students and alumni as well as members of Phnom Penh’s German community. Christmas songs were sung and cookies were eaten.
The Goethe Institute at Meta House has German language classes six days a week, with a total of about 90 from ages 16 up. Most of them pay $160 for two months’ worth of classes, an intensive course of 78 hours.
Pritscher took time to recall what German Christmas was like when she was a young girl in Bavarian country town of Oberroning, near Munich where she was the youngest girl in a family with six children, four brothers and two sisters.
“Four weeks before Christmas, we would light the adventskrantz, Christmas candles and light one each Sunday, to break up the time,” Pritscher recalled. “Christkind was bringing the presents, and this is the one we were waiting for, not Santa Claus. We were singing and we had presents under the tree.”
Pritscher’s mother set up all the decorations on Christmas Eve, the night of December 24, but wouldn’t let the children in to the room with the Christmas tree until a special time when she rang the bell.
The children would then enter the room with the Christmas tree and open the presents. The following Christmas Day, the 25th was the “big eating day” with lots of different kinds of foods.
“I’m from a Catholic background, and I think the Christmas tradition is strong. The bad side is many families have big clashes when it should be a peaceful time,” she laughed.
Pritscher remembered her mother made many different kinds of Christmas cookies during the weeks before Christmas and how wonderful it was.
Pritscher leaves tomorrow for that same German Christmas at her mother’s house. She’ll be gone from Cambodia for three weeks.
“For us it is really coming together, remembering about being a family.
Compared with Pritscher coming from Cambodia, the rest of the siblings live within about a 100-kilometre radius of Oberroning.
Pritscher will bring back some of Cambodia’s fresh fruits for her father and other Cambodian gifts including silk scarves and small things like baskets.
“My father loves the fruits from Cambodia,” she said.
One German family staying in Cambodia over the holidays are Gerhardt and Lilli Wiebe and their four children, the youngest of whom is Levi Samuel, aged nine months.
Lilli Wiebe grew up near Cologne, Germany, the fourth of six children.
“We always had a Christmas tree every year. On Christmas morning the door was locked and we had to wake up my parents and we opened our presents and had fun.”
Here in Cambodia, the Wiebe family has Christmas decorations at their house including a nativity scene.
“We read and we play the Mary and Joseph story.”
Lilli’s first Christmas in Cambodia was difficult because she missed her family back in Germany.
But now, with her husband and children, she’s making the best of a Cambodian Christmas.
“I miss my parents and my grandmother,” she said. “You can make a tree; you can make presents, but you can’t have your family.”
The Wiebes took their family back to Germany for Christmas last year. “The kids saw snow for the first time. They were so happy – and they had to ask permission to walk on the snow because they thought they were not allowed to step on this white, fluffy stuff.
“At the moment, I like being in Cambodia more than in Germany. “I’m needed here more than I am in Germany.”