Jelva, an au pair from Germany, shares this recollection of her first Christmas season in the United States. She lived with a host family in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, and was especially excited for holiday decorations. She shares some of her amusing memories of decorating with her host family in the story below.
I was really excited for Christmas in the U.S., because I learned from movies and such that Americans are crazy when it comes to Christmas lights. I love the warmth light gives, although it’s cold outside. I was expecting tons of indoor and outside decorations. My host family has a really big house, so I couldn’t imagine the amount of Christmas things we would need to make it seasonal. Even still, when Thanksgiving was over and it was time to get the Christmas stuff out, the mass of decorations and lights was overwhelming. Finally, I found out what all the closets and attics in the house were for—storage for decorations.
Before we set up decorations, I remember everyone telling me the Davis family had the biggest tree ever. When I asked about this, the kids would tell me it was about 18 feet tall. I was really impressed that they would go to cut a tree this big every year. Questioning how they got that huge tree inside the house, they would just tell me “through the attic.” Clearly confused, I asked if there was a window or something to get it inside the great room, where it was supposed to be. They only replied that they usually set it up piece by piece. So now I was really curious what this procedure would look like.
Little did I know that there are people out there who don’t have a REAL tree for Christmas. I was really disappointed when we went into the attic, and I found the boxes the tree was stored in. We took it out, piece by piece like the kids told me, put it together and had to “fluff it all up,” which would take forever and my arms would be all scratched up by the fake branches and needles.
Once we were done, I declared how much easier and nicer a real tree is, because the smell is the best part. A Christmas tree isn’t supposed to look just perfect, and you wouldn’t look like you just got out of a cat fight. So the next day when my host parents came back from grocery shopping they had tons of equipment to make the house smell like a Christmas tree. I got a candle for my room, there was an air freshener spray (in what felt like every power outlet) and little sticks they hung into the tree to make it smell real. They did all of this just to make me feel good about the fake tree—a very cute idea!
Well I don’t know how often you bought air freshener that actually smelled the way it claims it would, but I certainly never have. So you might be able to imagine what the house smelled like with all those products around. It was a really sweet and nice idea, but it didn’t quite turn out the way it was supposed to. The Christmas ornaments are little figures that everybody gets for Saint Nick’s. The ornaments demonstrate each year for each person, so there is always one which includes the Halloween costume and a couple other representing what the person did that year—even I got some, and I now hang them in my own tree despite the fact they do not match at all.
The inside decoration was one story, but the outside was a whole other adventure. I still recall how I was preparing to tell my host mom that I had injured her husband by accident…
Like I mentioned, the Davis house is gigantic, so if you want to decorate the roof, you would need a giant ladder as well. Since we did not have a big ladder but did have some small ones, my host dad somehow got the great idea to set them on top of each other. No problem (that’s what he thought) since he had me on the ground to steady his construct. Me, totally afraid of height, spent the entire time figuring out what to tell his wife on the way to the hospital. Luckily, nothing like that happened, but that day just showed me again that Americans (especially my host dad) are crazy about Christmas, and we could make a great Christmas movie ourselves!
Jelva is one of several au pairs that stayed with the Davis family in Chicago over the past two decades. These wonderful ladies, along with the Davis family, have agreed to periodically share their thoughts and experiences related to au pair exchange as part of an ongoing series. In the future, we look forward to more of these insightful posts from the Davis family!
If you want to learn more about au pair exchange and how you can welcome a wonderful au pair like Jelva into your family, our website is a great place to start. Visit www.aupairinamerica.com or call 800-928-7247 for more information.