12/19/2013 10:48:00 AM Foreign exchange student celebrates Christmas
by Dona Morgan
Christmas will be different this year for Magdalena Heynicke, who is visiting America for the first time and will be away from her family. Heynicke is the Rotary exchange student from Ratzeburg, Germany spending this school year at Cannon Falls High School. She is excited to be here, learning about our culture and sharing information about her homeland.
She keeps a very busy schedule between school and extracurricular activities. A gifted musician, she alternates playing the oboe and violin in the school band, and bass drum for pep band. Basketball and math league are her other interests. Each group is fun and she has made many new friends. Our school system seems easier than in Germany where they require more intense study.
Magdalena says she prefers the small sized school. "I like that sports are part of the school program and that they are identified as Bombers. That's neat," quoting Magdalena.
Our winter weather makes her feel right at home, except for the severe cold. Even the open spaces, hills and valleys remind her of Germany.
With Christmas just around the corner, I inquired if she missed her home? She answered "I'm not homesick but I really miss my pet dog."
Christmas in Germany focuses on family and church. Traditionally, it is celebrated on December 24. Her family brings home a freshly cut evergreen on December 23 or 24, then decorates the tree with simple ornaments and a string of white or yellow lights. Colored lights are not used in her country. Grandparents arrive for a 2-3 day visit. All the family attends church together on December 24, either at noon or in the evening, then returns home for dinner.
Christmas dinner includes special food like spatzla, mini noodles served with meat in gravy. The main entrée is cooked venison made into a hot dish; roasted stuffed goose, baked potatoes and red cabbage. There are lots of cookies for dessert. A favorite of Magdalena is vanilla kipferl, a half moon-shaped butter cookie rolled in sugar. Stollen and decorated gingerbread houses are also popular.
After their delicious feast, they gather around the Christmas tree and open gifts. December 25 and 26 are time for family and food. They play games and participate in outdoor sports like sledding and skiing. And there is plenty of food to nibble.
Magdalena looks forward to baking cookies and helping with other holiday preparations. She will have additional fun learning about Swedish Christmas traditions while staying with host family, Chris and Gary Engstrom, who are of Swedish ancestry. For Magdalena, this will be a special celebration to remember for a lifetime.