“What does Christmas mean?” asked Sven.
“Father Christmas is coming” said the father without looking up from his cell phone.
“No, Christ is born as a child,” Grandma said.
“And which one of them is right, now?” asked Sven.
“Then who is Santa?” Marie-Louise asked. She was only a little older than Sven but invariably thought she had to present her more detailed knowledge.
“He’s called Satan,” corrected Grandma, whose view of the world was resolutely un-American.
“He’s not called Satan at all!”
“Santa and Satan are not the same, despite the anagram,” corrected Father and began to look up the definitions on Wikipedia. “I’ll show you right away.” His clumsy fingers slid over the smartphone and he frowned as if he had to thread a rope through the eye of a needle.
“And what’s that about St. Nicolaus and his Krampus,” asked Maximilian-Alexander, who as a teenager felt too old to believe in such things. “What kind of strange relationship do those two have? One wears long dresses and funny hats, and the other likes to whip children.”
“You should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself,” scolded Aunt Edeltraut. “What an ugly thing to say!”
“But it is weird, isn’t it?” Maximilian-Alexander triumphed. Whenever Aunt Edeltraut said he should feel ashamed, it was an unmistakable sign that he had somehow – won.
“It’s Catholic,” Aunt Edeltraut explained. Uncle Eberhard was swallowing mulled wine and coughed in a decidedly unchristian way. “You just be quiet,” hissed Aunt Edeltraut. “If it were up to you we would all be heathens!”
“What kind of heathens?” asked Anna-Kathrin. She studied sociology and ethnology at university and liked to question everything. “European pagans? Asatru? Wicca? Or something more non-European? Buddhism is quite en vogue.”
Father had just found Satan and started googling Asatru and Wicca. “I’ll get it in a second,” he said. Nobody believed him.
“So what does Christmas mean now?” Sven asked impatiently.
“We are just explaining it to you! It’s not so simple.”
“And we shouldn’t forget the cowboys and the cheering wing-bearers either,” Maximilian-Alexander threw in. He had developed an unerring insdtinct for when a comment was particularly unsuitable. In fact, he had developed this kind of communication into an art form.
“At Nuremberg Christmas market, the Christ Child is female,” lectured Anna-Kathrin. “Pre-Christian roots can be recognized there – Mother Goddess and so on. Christmas is pre-Christian to a rather considerable extent. Solstice rites and evergreens. This does not really have anything to do with an oriental patriarchal religion which was annexed by the Romans, suitably polished and honed down by some council to make it adaptable for Roman thinking and since then has been operated as a kind of trademark protection scheme.”
“Trademark protection?” Uncle Eberhard asked.
“Like the Coca-Cola logo. Never change anything so that customers can identify with the brand. And burn those who violate trademark law.”
“Do you write Wicca with ck or with double k?” father asked.
“Christmas has nothing to do with Coca-Cola,” Grandma disagreed.
“Santa Claus does,” Marie-Louise explained. “He always arrives in a Coca-Cola truck.”
“I thought he came in a sleigh?” Uncle Eberhard asked innocently. “With raindrops.”
“Reindeer, Uncle Eberhard, reindeer.”
“With red noses. Maybe a political statement?” Uncle Eberhard sometimes sounded as if he should love to be Maximilian-Alexander once in a while. Aunt Edeltraut then usually looked as if she suffered from constipation.
“Santa comes by sleigh and down the chimney!”
“Difficult business with central heating, ” Maximilian-Alexander murmured. “With the diameter of modern heating pipes, he would have to have the shape of a very long, thin sausage. In a red casing and with fluffy ends.”
“You’re all stupid,” Marie-Louise complained.
And Grandma nodded: “That’s right, my child. Very stupid.”
“And what is Christmas now?” Sven asked again, who would have preferred a simple sentence to an elaborate riddle.
The door went.
“That will be Karin. She had to work late today. IWith her working for social …”
Sven’s mother came into the room and ushered two strangers in who looked around a little nervously. They carried full plastic bags as luggage and wore cheap Santa hats . They didn’t look particularly clean.
“Meet Martha and Werner. They will celebrate Christmas with us.”
The room went very quiet.
“They have no one else, and it’s cold outside,” mother explained to a number of faces showing signs of complete non-comprehension.
“But Karin …”, the father coughed, “dear me … it is Christm…”
“Exactly,” the mother said.
Aunt Edeltraut stood up. “Eberhard, I think we should go now … it is getting late …”
“Great,” Maximilian-Alexander said. “Then I don’t need to get any additional chairs. Sit down, folks. Have a biscuit!”
“Really Karin!” Aunt Edeltraut smiled thinly. “You always have to exaggerate. And at Christmas, too! Christmas belongs to the family!”
“It belongs to us?” asked Sven. “It’s all ours? Then I would like the one with the truck.”
“I think you have not quite understood, my boy,” corrected Aunt Edeltraut, who had sat down again and now took another biscuit before it was eaten by someone undeserving.
“Neither have you, Aunt Edeltraut, neither have you,” grinned Maximilian-Alexander.
“And now we shall all sing a jolly Christmas carol,” Grandma said. The quiet time if the year was rarely as quiet as after such a request.
Still, it was a very nice Christmas – even without the truck.

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