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No „Driving (or flying or taking trains) home for Christmas“: Without crackers or goats

No „Driving (or flying or taking trains) home for Christmas“ : Without crackers or goats

Hundreds of UN staff cannot go home for Christmas: What some miss and how they celebrate in Bonn anyway.

In normal times, it takes Robert Vagg six hours, door to door, from his flat in Dottendorf to his parents' cottage in south London. "The most annoying stage is right at the beginning, the journey with line 62 to the main station," says the Briton, "and sometimes the hustle and bustle in Brussels in front of the Eurostar train.“

This winter, Robert Vagg, who oversees the protection of the highly endangered Asiatic saiga antelope for the Bonn Convention on the UN campus in the Federal Quarter, will nevertheless not be going to his parents' house. "They are both over 90, so the risk from Corona is just too great," says the 59-year-old with a distinctive accent.

Now there’s telly time on the agenda

So in 2020 he won't be plucking a chicken with his brother to put on his parents' dinner table on Christmas Day. Traditionally, a turkey stuffed with ham, chestnuts, mushrooms, nuts and cranberries would be on a typical menu in England, but he says that’d be a bit too much for his family. This is accompanied by typical starters such as "Pigs in Blankets" - sausages rolled up in breakfast bacon or a Christmas soup with smoked salmon. Finally, a calorie-laden Christmas pudding with sultanas and nuts - flambéed with brandy.

"Afterwards, the mood is usually more relaxed. We also put on funny colourful paper hats, pull the Christmas Crackers and tell each other silly jokes," Vagg reports. The Crackers are the equivalent of Christmas candy in Germany, but they contain jokes about Christmas. What does Santa Claus suffer from when he gets stuck in the chimney? - Claustrophobia.

Otherwise, Prince Albert has imported some Christmas traditions - such as the Christmas tree - to the island, so Vagg in Bonn does not feel completely lost at Christmas. As a single, he will probably meet with other expats and watch the controversial series "The Crown" about the British royal family.

Hillary Sang also prefers to stay in Bonn this time. The Kenyan has been in the city working for the United Nations for nine years. This year, Christmas is a very special holiday for the devout Christian, because it is the first for his six-month-old son Noah. Fortunately, the closest family lives together with the parents-in-law in Mehlem. Hillary would have loved to introduce the little one to his parents during the holidays. But his annual visit to his hometown Kericho in the tea-growing region of western Kenya is also cancelled this year. "We could theoretically fly. But the infection situation is difficult. We have decided against it," says Sang.

Christmas in Kenya is naturally somewhat different than in Germany. But Christmas trees have also become fashionable there. Because they know the custom from television, many of the neighbours would put an artificial snow dressing on Christmas trees with cotton blossoms. Above all, however, Christmas is a celebration for the whole family. "For this, we slaughter a goat on Christmas Eve. The meat is much sought after," says Sang. Some of it goes into a hearty soup, and the ribs and muscle meat goes on the grill on Christmas Day. "The men start building the fire first thing in the morning. Then at noon they have a feast.“

The evening and night are for prayer and remembering the birth of Jesus Christ. On the second Christmas Day, in normal years, there are visits to uncles and cousins. "After that, you feel grounded again for a new year," Sang says. By the way, he doesn't have to bring presents for everyone: "That's not really customary. If at all, you give the parents a little something."

The journey home would be even further for Melanie Virtue – but she usually takes it on herself every year. "After ten years in Bonn, this will be my first winter in Europe," says the New Zealand woman who is originally from the capital Wellington. It's summer there now, and so actually all her fellow „Kiwis“ spend the holidays at the end of the school year camping and barbecuing under flowering pohutukawa trees on the beach. "A lot of kids get surfboards, inflatables boats or maybe kites as presents and of course they want to try them out," Virtue says.

With her New Zealand passport, Virtue would have been able to enter the otherwise closed island country. "But you have to spend 14 days in controlled quarantine at your own expense in a special hotel with soldiers outside the door," she says. She prefers to walk through the Kottenforst with other dog owners every day: "That's what keeps me mentally straight in the grey rainy weather."

(Original text: Martin Wein; Translation: Mareike Graepel)