Language Translation at Christmas

Published 9th December 2010
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A week ago, having just finished my last blog post, which contained a throwaway remark about the Teutonic appetite for pork, I went for my lunch break and what did I see outside Swansea’s new shopping precinct but a wooden hut selling “The Original German Barbecue” (or so they claim), including such exotic delicacies as “flame-grilled sausages”! How serendipitous, I thought, but as it turned out, there’s a good reason why German-style Christmas markets are beginning to appear on high streets all over the U.K. “Christmas with a German accent” is simply another “PR ploy”, as an article in last Saturday’s Guardian informed me.

According to the Guardian, Birmingham now has a bigger Weihnachtsmarkt than Dresden, Berlin or Nuremberg and it’s all due to a man called Kurt Stroscher, who worked for the Frankfurt tourist board and decided to
promote German culture by exporting local Christmas traditions to the U.K. – following in the footsteps of Prince Albert, who brought back the first British Christmas tree from Germany in 1841.

Now I’m not, repeat: not!, a cultural fundamentalist. There are those in Germany who’d like to deport Father Christmas as an illegal alien who was smuggled into the country by the Coca Cola company for nefarious purposes and has supplanted the indigenous Christkind in the affection of German children. Personally, I think that’s going a bit far, although it is true that Coca Cola has used the popular image of the benign elderly gent in his bright red coat for its own advertising campaigns since the 1930’s.

I even like Sainsbury’s “German-style Stollen cake”, although it tastes nothing like proper Christstollen (for that, go to Lidl). And where else but in the U.K. would you find “Santa’s sumo-wrestling grotto”, as seen in Swansea’s Waterfront Wonderland during another lunch break? (Incidentally, this sentence calls for an interrobang, don’t you think‽) But I am slightly nostalgic for a time when countries had their own distinct Christmas traditions, and in order to experience them, you had to travel there.

I remember pityíng English children because they had to wait until December 25 before they could open their presents – how very weird, and how thrilling that Christmas was so different in other cultures! One year, I wrote a semi-fictional account of a typical German Christmas for my various penpals all over the world (with illustrations!), struggling to find English words for the traditions and experiences I considered quintessentially “weihnachtlich” (“very Christmassy”, in my twelve-year-old self’s translation, which I’m still unable to improve upon). Today, I suppose I could save myself the trouble by telling my penfriends just to go to Birmingham and get sloshed on Glühwein at the world’s sixth-largest Weihnachtsmarkt.

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