Rarely is the Schlachtensee in the south of Berlin so deserted and quiet. The sky sends down heavy rain. Sarah Connor likes to watch from the "fisherman's hut" how the drops spread evenly over the water. Talking about her new album, she says: "Telling Christmas from the perspective of a working mother appealed to me more than being the one to cover 'Let It Snow' for the hundredth time." So, after 17 years, Connor did sung a second album of their own Christmas carols in English.
WORLD: Do you know the song "Driving Home for Christmas" by Chris Rea? Do you make Christmas like him?
Sarah Connor: I tend to drive all over the place before Christmas and do everything that needs to be done for a nice Christmas. But let's be honest: when you turn into the street with your car with this song on the radio, then that's the pure American Christmas movie idyll, isn't it? I love it when our house is beautifully decorated. I like the atmosphere and also the hustle and bustle that always breaks out, no matter how well you prepare. I am a working mother and have a large family, so you have to organize it well.
WORLD: So Christmas is important to you?
Connor: Absolutely. Because we all very consciously take time for each other at Christmas. Santa Claus is coming. Everyone has to say something. we sing together I like that. Above all, that we don't rush past each other on this day. That nobody's up to anything else, it's just Christmas Eve. You can look forward to it, to the family, the food, the get-together.
WORLD: Do you cook yourself?
Connor: Once or twice I ordered the food, but then my husband and I started doing everything ourselves. We stuff two geese, although I rarely eat meat (laughs). But we're pretty good at it now. We fill them with chestnuts, onions and apples, then we sew them up again. It's become a real ritual.
WORLD: And what do you eat instead of the goose?
Connor: Primarily all the side dishes. But sometimes I try the goose too, of course. Out of respect for the bird. I'm not a vegetarian, but I eat very little meat.
WORLD: Do you have a Christmas tree?
Connor: Sure, a big one at that.
WORLD: Do you decorate?
Connor: Hey, of course. I was never allowed to help decorate as a child. Our father always did that, and we weren't allowed to see the tree until Christmas Eve when we gave presents. We kids thought that was really stupid. Everyone can now help decorate, even if that ends up in what is perhaps the ugliest tree in Germany (laughs), because everyone is working on their own corner.
WORLD: Are you also a lighting decoration guy?
Connor: Yes, yes. Normally we have relatively complex lighting in the front yard. But we will reduce that this year, it is no longer up-to-date. I got five or six solar light chains for this. Now I just hope that the daylight in Berlin will be enough during the day to charge things up again.
WORLD: You have two children with your ex-husband and two with the current one. Do both men meet at Christmas?
Connor: Last year we celebrated Christmas together. Patchwork is exhausting, I can tell you that. No matter how much people keep accusing me of doing it all so easily. It's an ass spasm. But that's family and my ex-husband is also part of the package I came with.
WORLD: And then you get a third man, Santa Claus?
Connor: Yes, you can never have enough strong men in the house. Santa Claus comes by personally and hands over the gifts, and everyone has to say something. I always tell the kids: If you don't believe in Santa Claus, he won't do you any good.
WORLD: Do you also think about yourself at Christmas? According to the motto: Am I doing everything right?
Connor: I keep thinking about the question of whether I'm doing everything right, just not really at Christmas. Christmas is all sorts of things with us, but not still. After all, I'm the organizer in charge. By the way, the best time to blackmail the children is already after St. Nicholas. According to the motto: Oh oh, I think I just saw the red cap at the window. Now eat your vegetables quickly, Santa Claus sees everything... (laughs). This is probably not correct pedagogically at all, but it works.
WORLD: And do you go to church with everyone in the evening? You used to be a gospel singer.
Connor: I like going to church for the nativity play. Unfortunately, last year we couldn't get in around the corner, everything was already full. However, it can also get a little tiring when we're in the middle of it, so not everyone is equally keen on going to church. My children don't like to share me. I only like the atmosphere in the church at Christmas, otherwise the church is rather scary for me.
Connor: Yes, I find the concept of atonement and confession strange. I also find it creepy that Jesus hangs on the cross everywhere. I've visited and marveled at beautiful churches in Barcelona and Rome, but all of them have something menacing about them as well as their imposingness and beauty.
WORLD: Would you say you are a good donor?
Connor: Yes, I really like giving gifts.
WORLD: Gladly does not automatically mean good.
Connor: Right. I still think I'm a good gift giver because I'm quite observant.
WORLD: So you don't have any trouble about the gifts?
Connor: My husband once gave me an expensive watch. There was an argument and I didn't speak to him for a few days. You can't impress me with that, and he knew that, but he did it anyway. I found that totally wrong. I want to be seen Better write me a letter or organize a surprise picnic for me. My mother wears the watch now.
WORLD: Is there anything you are particularly happy about?
Connor: About homemade gifts. I especially love it when the children write me letters. It's something I can keep forever, something I can still look forward to quite often, even when I'm older - or the children are older. Sometimes they write me a song too. Or a poem. I've gotten crazy things, really.
WORLD: What was the craziest thing?
Connor: The year before last, my eldest son wrote me a letter on Mother's Day as if he were already a father himself, who tells his children about the pandemic and homeschooling and also about me in retrospect. It went something like this: 'Your grandmother was such a great woman, she knew this and that, and she told this story and that.' Very sweet. And suddenly the letter ended with: 'Unfortunately, she then died of lung cancer because she couldn't stop smoking' (laughs). After that I immediately stopped doing it. I was so shocked. In his eyes it was the ultimate sin unspoken, and the message was clear.
WORLD: Your new album is called "Not So Silent Night". Why, don't you have a silent night?
Connor: Christmas is wild, loud and fun at our house. We are around 10 to 15 people and we almost always have visitors who don't have families themselves and would otherwise be alone. This year we have a Ukrainian woman with us who has been living with us since March with her two boys. It will certainly be something special because it gives us a different perspective of Christmas. We are currently talking a lot about what home, safety and security mean.
WORLD: You had already taken in war refugees in 2015, a Syrian family. What was your experience?
Connor: A very intense experience. At that time, a mother came to us with five children, including a four-day-old newborn. She actually had nine children. One after the other, some with partners and their own children, followed, in the end eleven or twelve people lived with us. We laughed a lot and cried too. The language barrier and the cultural differences were great. But that was also a family that had been marked by the war for years and was severely traumatized. The war in Syria started in 2011 and they came to us in 2015. Very different from the Ukrainian family that is with us now.
WORLD: To what extent?
Connor: This mother had a normal life in Ukraine until the outbreak of war, she worked in a bank. From one day to the next she had to drop everything. She is deeply shocked that she was catapulted into a new life here in Germany with practically nothing. The children didn't even know what was going on at first – two boys, four and nine years old. They hope to return every month. In the meantime, our children have become so close that saying goodbye to them is a really sad thought. The boys stick together like siblings. This morning they woke us up at seven because they were having a pillow fight in the living room. That's very touching right now. It was intense with the Syrians, but there was no happy ending.
WORLD: How did the story end?
Connor: We had rented an apartment for them, vouched for them, furnished them, but half a year later they sold everything we had bought and wanted to go back. They also longed for their homeland, then ended up stranded in Izmir and imprisoned there because they were illegal war refugees in Turkey. With all the kids and babies. I was very afraid for the children and had many sleepless nights. Three months later they were back at our door. It was complicated for her here in Germany.
WORLD: What made it so difficult for you?
Connor: The mother was forced into marriage when she was 13, had four children by the time she was 20, never learned to read or write, so it's not easy to learn a new language. Communication was very difficult, and it was also difficult to come together culturally. Just explaining to her that children have to go to bed at eight in the evening so that they are fit when they go to daycare in the morning, she didn't know that. The father came later, badly marked by the war. There was a lot of arguments and violence, also towards the children. One of the sons often called me and asked me to come and help. But there were nice moments too. The children have grown on me. In general, they were very grateful for the help and incredibly warm-hearted, Mom cooked fantastically and often put delicious dishes in the kitchen for us. But in retrospect, what I had put my family through was extreme. What happened in all of Germany happened in our house: it is difficult to bring these cultures together. It was good: You get to know and understand these people a little, and it takes away your fear of the stranger.
WORLD: Why are you doing something like this?
Connor: We have the space and the means for it, and I prefer to form my own opinion. After six months, the then eleven-year-old son spoke fluent German, which was impressive, but not entirely unproblematic for us. At dinner, he suddenly began to describe in detail what he had experienced. For example, how his best friend was shot in the head right next to him on the street. I then said to him: you have to tell me something like that when we're alone. My three children at that time were under twelve and often very shocked. But it's his truth, and of course that changes the way you look at the people who come to us. It was heartbreaking.
WORLD: Does the Ukrainian family give you a different view of Christmas? Does the topic of overconsumption play a role now?
Connor: A big one. It is no longer up to date and certainly not sensible to exaggerate in the way we have done in recent years. As we often do with our children. We've talked about it and we want to change that. The Ukrainian family gave us a completely new perspective on consumption. The three lost everything, came to us without anything. My children have started sorting out and it was exciting to see: how far are they willing to share, what can they give away? As I walked the children through their rooms, they realized how much they have. It's not their fault that they grow up so privileged. I didn't have a lot of all that and will probably have tried at one point or another to overcompensate for it a little.
WORLD: What can we do against overconsumption?
Connor: Become aware of what this consumption is doing in the world, learn to understand the connections and be grateful for what we have, maybe think outside the box and of course buy less. The experience we are having with our Ukrainian guests gives us a strong impetus to question our way of life. We can't go on like this. Of course there are days when I think: What is the point of not using single-use plastics, if we separate the rubbish or if we ride a bike instead of a car? In France they do it this way, in Poland they do it differently, and in China even more so. Nevertheless: We have a responsibility to help shape our world, to help shape our society and to be a role model for our children.
WORLD: So Christmas is perfect to change something?
Connor: You can also redirect consumption. At Christmas - and here I appreciate the Christian idea of charity again - people are in a giving mood. They give gifts and want to share some of their happiness. You can get involved in many ways. For example, every year we distribute groceries in different places, help hand out food for homeless people in Berlin, and hand out sleeping bags. This ritual is now just as important to my children as their own gifts. The Arche and the Tafel can always use helping hands. Just go and tackle. We need to stop pointing fingers and passing the buck to each other. The fact is, many of us have too much of everything. Everyone has to start with themselves. Otherwise we all experience the moment when we have to be ashamed in front of our children.
WORLD: Is it really just a Christmas present for everyone?
Connor: I really hope that we can do it this year. One, two gifts at most. (After a short pause) You know, I didn't have much myself, but I had enough. My parents always managed to give us what we wanted. The greatest gift we can give children is our time, our undivided attention. For example, when you wake up the next morning, go into the living room, it still smells of candle wax and pine needles, everything is still lying around under the tree until New Year's Eve, and you sit down in your pajamas and muddle along. Build Lego or whatever. That's the greatest thing. This is also Christmas for me.
WORLD: Do you sing with the family at Christmas?
Connor: But hello! My children have been singing my Christmas carols all year round. They know the demos, they're in the car when I do the mixes. They actually already know the songs inside and out. The other day my 5-year-old son asked me: What are you doing there? And I'll say: I'm practicing "Ring out the Bells" and "Christmas 2066" (two songs from the new album) for a TV show for the first time and I'm super excited because it's brand new to me . And he like: Huh? That's not new (laughs). He's right, he's been listening to the songs since February, it's all old stuff for him.
WORLD: Do you remember what your first Christmas carols were?
Connor: "Every year again" and "Your little children are coming".
WORLD: What is your favorite Christmas song?
Connor: Wahrscheinlich „Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas“.
WORLD: So many people sang it: from Frank Sinatra to Judy Garland, Kylie Minogue and Rod Stewart to Helene Fischer. Which version do you like the most?
Connor: Christina Aguilera's.
WORLD: You did it differently. You have not sung anything for the umpteenth time, but have written your own Christmas carols. How so?
Connor: I just wanted to write new songs and I had a lot of ideas to tell Christmas from the perspective of a working mother. That excited me more than being the one to cover Let it Snow for the 100th time. I released the Christmas album "Christmas in My Heart" 17 years ago. From this, two Christmas carols have established themselves quite well. One cannot predict whether one of the new tracks will become a Christmas hit. I think Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You" was out for ten years before it became a hit.
WORLD: The hit remains the goal?
Connor: Not necessarily. But it doesn't hurt either. When I start writing songs for a new album, all I have in mind is the story. But I have absolutely nothing against hits. When 22,000 people sing along to your songs in Berlin's Waldbühne, it's just a great feeling.