Family & Education

The Oma Way: A Grandmother Shares the Culture and Traditions She Grew Up With in Germany

BY Ani Asvazadurian TIMEJuly 19, 2022 PRINT

She is affectionately called “Grandma” by everyone—not only by her grandchildren, but also by complete strangers. Born in Hesse, Germany, Yvonne Christ emigrated to the United States 33 years ago. Far from her homeland, she gradually realized her deep connection to German culture. This grandma has a big heart for people; community is important to her. That and a longing for a “Germany of yesteryear” have led her to share her memories and experiences with a wider audience.

On her blog The Oma Way (“oma” means “grandma” in German), she provides authentic insights into her life, recipes, and tips on practical housework and gardening. She spoke with The Epoch Times about her experiences in Germany and the United States, and what values she wants to pass on to her grandchildren.

The Epoch Times: Ms. Christ, what was it like for you as a young mother at the time, with three small children, to leave your home country of Germany?

Yvonne Christ: It was not easy. The original plan was to go to America for only three years because of my then-husband’s work. Then, when he decided to stay in the U.S., I had no other choice. So emigrating was not entirely voluntary. I was incredibly homesick for decades. I stayed at home with the children, took care of them, the household, and the garden. Whether I perform these tasks in America or in Germany doesn’t matter, but I missed my family and friends very much. The different pace of life in the U.S. was also a hurdle for me. It starts with shopping and goes all the way to organizing the children’s schooling. Here, you have to drive all the distances, while in Germany you could walk everywhere. The lifestyle has changed a lot for me.

What you actually miss is what you left behind. If we went back to Germany now, it wouldn’t be the same either. Life there has changed. I miss the Germany we left behind, not the Germany it is today.

Epoch Times Photo
Yvonne Christ and her three children left Germany 33 years ago. In this picture, they have just landed in the United States. (Courtesy of Yvonne Christ)

The Epoch Times: On various social media channels and your website, you are known as the grandma of “The Oma Way.” What is the story behind that?

Ms. Christ: When my children had all moved out and settled in different states, I suddenly found myself alone in the huge house in Maryland with six bathrooms. I wanted to sell the house, but the prices had come down so much that I would have lost half of the original purchase price. So I wondered what I was going to do all alone in such a gigantic house. In addition, neighborhood life in the Washington, D.C., area was so anonymous.

So I started writing down family recipes and recipes that we had learned at school or from neighbors at the time. I shared them on Facebook. Then I added culture, and later childhood experiences and descriptions of places. That’s how my website grew. My posts also changed due to the needs and requests of my followers on Facebook. So I made more posts about traditions. Many Americans who had left Germany just as long ago can identify with my story and my posts. People find in me a platform where they can share similarities and memories. In the process, the older generation also passes things on to the younger.

With the increasingly difficult situation in world and local politics, people’s needs have changed. They are now confronted only with negative news. That’s why I want to encourage, be life-affirming, and pass on positive things to people. So I share my experiences in my garden, and show photos of nature around me. A rising moon or sunset can be enjoyed. I want to bring people back to the simple and beautiful things. Also because people’s goals have changed. The goals used to be focused on community. That’s how I grew up: in a small place where everyone was there for everyone else. That has changed a lot, due to politics, price increases, and the like. As a result, people only have to think about themselves. I don’t want to say it’s something malicious, but there is a compulsion. Women are forced to go to work like their husbands in order to even be able to support a life as a family with two children.

Due to the pressure on society, people can no longer perceive the little things in life. I think with my Facebook page I have succeeded in bringing people closer to these things again. I notice from the reactions of my followers how much they appreciate this. Many have set their Facebook notifications to see a post from “Grandma” first thing in the morning.

The Epoch Times: On your website, you share German recipes, German culture, and traditions, among other things. Why is it important to you to uphold traditions and share them with those around you?

Ms. Christ: Traditions shape you, they also give you a nice framework for life. For example, I couldn’t live in a country where there aren’t four seasons. That’s incredibly essential to me, also because the seasons are points of orientation for me. It’s similar with traditions and culture. When holidays come, people prepare for them. You get together because of a certain event that is just as important as a birthday. One adjusts one’s way of life according to the holidays or the culture. After all, these holidays involve more than just celebrating. They involve getting together and talking to each other without the use of the Internet or the telephone. That’s how you get completely different thoughts and new ideas.

I moved from Maryland to Virginia last year, to an orchard with a cottage. It was supposed to be a temporary solution until I found a house. I felt so comfortable there, I said to my children, “Finally, after 33 years in America, I have arrived.” It’s also often scents that trigger memories of times gone by, I suddenly realized, “This is exactly how I grew up.” All my knowledge about gardening I didn’t acquire through books but learned from my grandmother. That was also the first time I realized who I actually was.

Epoch Times Photo
Yvonne Christ’s country house in Virginia. Here she feels “finally arrived” after 33 years in America. (Courtesy of Yvonne Christ)

At Christmas, all six of my grandchildren were with me. They spent the time just as we used to when we were children, because I must have taught them that. All six of them sat together on the floor in the kitchen, the big ones helped the little ones, they didn’t need any guidance at all. They then went for a walk together, looking for apples and sharing them with each other. It was a reflection of what I was trying to teach my children in terms of values and traditions. That’s when I realized that my children were successful in raising my grandchildren. And that’s exactly what I want to pass on.

Epoch Times Photo
Yvonne Christ likes to share her knowledge of gardening. (Courtesy of Yvonne Christ)
Epoch Times Photo
Homemade jam. (Courtesy of Yvonne Christ)
Epoch Times Photo
Gnomes in Yvonne Christ’s garden. (Courtesy of Yvonne Christ)

The Epoch Times: What values are particularly important to you that you want to pass on to your children and grandchildren?

Ms. Christ: To think of others. Away from the “I” and toward the “we.” I want to teach them a sense of community and that it’s not always necessarily important to be first. This is important to me because my oldest grandson is quite good at sports. He used to get upset when he didn’t perform the way he wanted to. I then had a serious talk with him and told him, “Sports are not about being first.” I conveyed to him the value that there are others who struggle. And that even if he makes first place, he should also think first and foremost about those who are also struggling in sports and putting in just as much effort. Since our conversation, he has changed so much.

Not thinking about the other person is a big problem we have in society today. It’s only the “I” that counts. The bad thing is, people miss out on so much that you can experience together. They miss out on so much joy.

Epoch Times Photo
Last Christmas, Yvonne Christ baked 18 different kinds of cookies, including a gingerbread house decorated with the help of one of her granddaughters. (Courtesy of Yvonne Christ)
Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Yvonne Christ)

The Epoch Times: What do you particularly appreciate about German culture?

Ms. Christ: The reliability. I don’t know if that’s different today, I mean the Germany I left. If you said something, you used to do it. You took responsibility for your promise. You don’t find that very often anymore.

The Epoch Times: How are German traditions received by Americans?

Ms. Christ: They love it. They really have a high regard for Germans. Many of my followers are Americans who were stationed in Germany. They say Germany is their second home. Once you’ve been stationed in Germany, you always go back. Their vacation destination in the summer is always Germany. In Germany, when you take a trip out and go hiking … through the vineyards, with the scents, with the wine that is offered—it is a very special atmosphere.

The Epoch Times: You say you had to carry responsibilities at a very young age?

Ms. Christ: Yes, that’s how it used to be. The oldest girl takes over the household duties. But I never saw that as a burden, or even as work. That’s how I grew up; you just take on responsibility. When my mother noticed that I didn’t feel like it, she said to me, “Watch out, either you do it right or you don’t do it at all.” She only had to say it once to me and I understood. I also had to do a lot of things that I didn’t necessarily want to do. Maybe I was about to play with the neighbor kid, then my mom told me to dry the dishes. At that moment, of course, I didn’t like drying dishes. My mother helped me develop self-discipline. I thought to myself, “Well, I don’t like doing this, but I still have to give 100 percent. If I’m going to do it, I have to do it well. If I’m not willing to do it, I’ll let it go, or leave it to others who are willing to do it.”

The Epoch Times: Was there anything that greatly influenced your life or shaped you into the person you are today?

Ms. Christ: I think there were several things that shaped me: One was the way I was raised. I grew up on a farm. My grandmother and I were inseparable; she took me to the fields and vegetable gardens at an early age. She always had me in tow. I also loved listening to her tell stories about the older generation. That helped me acquire knowledge of the past and get that attitude myself. For a very young child, it is magical to hear such stories.

Of course, it was also my mother who influenced me. [She] was born near Pilsen, which was then Czechoslovakia and is now Germany. That’s where the Eastern influence came into the upbringing. So did my godmother, a friend of my mother. She had two sons but always wanted a daughter, so she treated me like her daughter. I was accepted, protected, and loved as a child by neighbors, godmother, mother, and grandmother. It was all so spontaneous, so real, something I wasn’t so aware of at the time, and something you only realize with age when you look back on your life. Otherwise, I couldn’t do my website with such a positive attitude.

Sports have also had a great influence on me. I started doing gymnastics at the age of three and also track and field until I was 27, the three disciplines of shotput, the 100-meter, and long jump. Of course, this balancing act requires a lot of self-discipline, especially in gymnastics. Without self-discipline, you can forget it.

Epoch Times Photo
Yvonne Christ shares a sunset shot from home. (Courtesy of Yvonne Christ)
Epoch Times Photo
Geraniums bloom at Yvonne Christ’s house. (Courtesy of Yvonne Christ)

The Epoch Times: What do you appreciate most about the traditional life as a housewife?

Ms. Christ: I guess that would be the order. That recurring framework. You get up in the morning, you have a life plan, an orderly rhythm. Knowing that everyone in the whole town is doing the same thing: baking cookies for the First of Advent, then preparing the Christmas cake called “Weihnachtsstollen.” In the town where I was born, everyone made their stollen on the last weekend in November because it had to be stored until Christmas. Then the cookies came one after the other, one kind after the other. Everyone knew that this weekend we would make these cookies, and next weekend we would make the others. You knew that the same thing was made in every house. Or the traditional Sunday dinner: Usually, it was savoy cabbage and marrow dumpling soup, horseradish sauce, potatoes, and boiled meat in soup. We knew that this was available almost everywhere on Sunday, everyone had it.

On Saturdays, the streets were swept. People didn’t just sweep the streets, they met for a chat. Everyone stood outside with a broom in his hand and swept his street. It always took ages, because the neighbors all got together and had a chat.

That’s what I like so much. The exchange with people, also the feeling that we were always welcome and at home with every neighbor. As kids, we could walk into any house unannounced. When we played hide and seek, all the children, regardless of age, from the whole street were always involved. We could hide in the houses of the neighbors. Life took place on the street. There were no dates either, like today. We just went out on the street, there was always someone there to meet or play with casually.

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