Christmas Away from Home

Der Watzmann, CC BY-SA 3.0
I remember my first Christmas away from home. I was in Germany, in the town of Berchtesgaden near Salzburg, forever infamous as Hitler’s mountain getaway. I’d been on a university work program when I’d landed a serving position in one of the town’s pensions. The original six weeks morphed into almost a year of backpacking throughout Germany and the rest of Europe.   I met interesting people and had a myriad of experiences.

In between trips, I’d return to Berchtesgaden where I’d always find work. Berchtesgaden was like Canada’s Banff, filled with tourists and always in need of workers. Serving tables was a great way for me to improve my language skills and being in Germany was my first real attempt to explore my elusive roots. Life was an adventure. 

But working past midnight, as Christmas Eve became Christmas Morning, serving cocktails and caviar to well-off holiday skiers, took a toll on me.  I returned to my little servants’ quarters that I shared with some fast-asleep young women from Turkey, feeling more than tired—I felt lonely. 

What cheered me up? I had one gift to open from an aunt living in the opposite end of Germany … near Hamburg. I just remember the thrill of opening that present. It was a wallet with some German money inside and a note to come visit her. It made that Christmas memorable and even today I’m reminded of her kindness and of the power of gifts. 

Christmas makes loneliness more lonely. I’ve tried to convey that in my novels, and I hope to be sensitive to those around me … to reach out and give. 

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