My hair froze.
It’s not the arctic, just Germany in an unusual cold snap. While walking home I caught the pitying look of a pedestrian coming my way and could not understand the reason until I caught sight of my hair, which stood out under my hat in its usual untidy waves but tinted a frozen white. I was afraid if I touched it, it would snap off with a satisfactory tchik noise.
-15 Celsius is unusual. Still we expect our children to weather it all. Many foreigners from warmer shores, who stay here only temporarily, huddle their children to school in their cars at every drop of rain, snow or other “ill” weather and express desperation when the kids are sent outside during the breaks while their German counterparts dress their kids in snowsuits for the cold season and raingear and specialized mud-pants for the rainy season. If we did not adapt to the weather around here we would be going out even less than already is the case. It is winter after all and if we want some snow the only way we seem to be able to keep it in these last years, is if the temperatures drop well below 0 and stay there.
This week saw the holiday of Epiphany, Los Reyes Magos , Heilige Drei Könige or La Befana. Exploring the history of our calendars I discover how hard our ancestry worked at creating consistency. Our current calendar evolved, till it attained this structure in which our birthdays and holidays happen in the same season and we always have the same number of months (Here you will find all sorts of interesting data.). Not so in China or Korea. A friend from Korea told me that although they use the Gregorian calendar they mark the Chinese Year on it as well and some of the older generation still move their birthdays and other events accordingly. One year her mother celebrated her birthday in summer and the next in winter.
That is amazing. Here I am admiring my skillful dance between different cultures and languages and suddenly I realize how easy I have it in comparison. We share fundamental things like calendars and know no alternatives. We can completely ignore the recent (1582!) history of their creation and enjoy the fruits of a well-regulated time and calendar system. We can ignore that without precise watches seamen would still risk getting hopelessly lost at sea and we can time our meetings and plan our birthdays for the same day and season every year with only subtle shifts like leap years or leap seconds, which we hardly notice and often forget (Google: Results 55,800 for leap year, software glitch). Consistency is so reassuring.
In January we have left behind the religious holidays and are contemplating the arrival of “Fasching” (Carneval), which officially started in the 11th month on the 11th of day at 11 minutes passt 11 o`clock and will last until the end of February, but we don’t have time to think of preparations until the 06th of January, when with the arrival of the Kings we clear our houses of all related to Christmas by packing up decorations and throwing our trees into the streets. I shiver at the thought of dancers big and small preparing for the Fasching parade in February in their traditionally very short skirts. I can see them in countless halls across the countries donning their colorful suits and three point hats with a fur trimming (Why is the fur on the hats? Why don’t they have long coats?) practicing their steps and baton moves. Maybe school breaks out in any weather have prepared the countless “Funkemariechen” for the feat they are about to perform, which is marching throughout town for the parade in their little skirts, while the audience huddles in winter coats, scarves and wool hats.
I feel I was luckier when I played the role of one of the three kings as a child. We were allowed to dip into the vast treasure of smocks, woolen skirts of mass servants and adorned ourselves with one of the fancy priest stoles, which we thought was a huge privilege. Pretending to be men and kings (Yes, the servants were all girls in 1976. The boys were all out playing football. I mean soccer.) meant that we could dress warmly. I don´t remember much about the actual event. A few chalkmarks over doors marking our passing and a blessing for the house. What remains are photos that are gradually turning yellow showing myself and my fellow kings grinning into the camera, tucking our long hair under crowns and turbans.
It is a vague but sweet memory to keep me warm as I follow my father’s advice and hibernate like other clever animals and stay in my cave, waiting for warmer and sunnier times, while my children as all young ones test and improve their resistance to life and all its trials in winter weather and school halls according to the old saying “Was Dich nicht umbringt, macht Dich nur stärker”.