This month Felicia Bettin tells us all about how Christmas is celebrated, from a culinary point of view, in Germany. Recipes for some of the goodies described follow in separate posts.
And with all the the wonderful traditions and delicious smells! Over here we’ll be inviting each other to “come on, let’s go to the Christmas market and drink some hot spicy Glühwein! Let’s find something tasty to eat! How about some Schmalzgebäck?”
Yes, Christmas time is the time of year every ordinary German fevers after! In December there is deep Christian thought on the part of many; there’s also the desire to party all the time; and there’s a love of old traditions, all this going on at the same time! To accommodate all these desires, Germans have cleverly organised for Germanic and Christian traditions to happen at the same time. To be frank, us Germans really go over the top on this one!
How it begins
Everything begins at the end of November with the opening of our Christmas markets. Every village, no matter how small, glows with the Christmas spirit. You could have just three houses and two farmers and there would still be a Christmas Market!
And the people in that little hamlet will say “Ja ja, there are many Christmas markets, but this one is something special. It is the most traditional you will ever find and simply the best in the entire world, of course!” But the opening of the markets is just the beginning of something much bigger.
When Advent starts
On the last weekend of November, the Advent period begins. This must be celebrated properly. No one is allowed to miss out on the decorated Advent wreath, with four candles set around it. On each Sunday before Christmas, you may light another candle. By day, many will go, well-behaved, to church and in the evening, don’t be surprised if there is more glühwein (for where would we be without it)! Other culinary delights and activities to tempt you include baking Vanillekipferl (vanilla biscuits, of a sort) and Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars), building Gingerbread Houses and generally eating until you cannot eat anything more. But at this stage, we’re hardly half way through and us Germans are not nearly satisfied.
St. Nicholas comes to town
On the 6th December, after you’ve been endlessly to the Christmas market, it is time to celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas. Children, big and smal,l receive surprises from St. Nicholas himself. The custom is that the children clean their leather boots until they can see their own reflections and then leave them outside the front door. A ghostly hand then reaches in and fills up the shiny shoe with all of life’s delights: marzipan, little chocolate men, nuts and tiny presents.
The German’s greatest achievement
Still we plough on through the German pre-Christmas timetable! Finally, we come to the most important moment of this period of celebration: the Christmas tree! This tree is the pride and joy of the German family and it is taken very seriously. Often, the man of the family goes into the forest himself to cut down his chosen tree. The very moment the tree is planted proud and tall in the living room, every man is convinced that he has cut down the best and most beautiful tree in the entire forest! Na ja, at least 1000 times better than his neighbour’s tree!
Friends are invited over to make comments about the tree, with the excuse of coffee and Christstollen (a type of German raisin cake) on offer. And now, foreigner, never forget, as soon as you step through the door and you see the tree, remember to congratulate the German for his wonderful tree-shaped achievement!
The big moment arrives
Now the German must be strong and stay busy with other things until Christmas Eve itself comes. Luckily, he has Glühwein and Christmas markets to help him through these tough times.
Finally, after an almost unbearable wait, the time has come – the 24th December is here! The German thinks he has now really waited enough and is already giving presents. Many will go to church first and then there will be a well-advised pause in the constant eating. In the evening, at around eight, we eat sausages with potato salad and mustard. In many parts of Germany children are told that the Christkind (Child Jesus) brought the presents. Us adults have wondered at one stage or other in our childhood how a child could manage that…there must have been a helper!
And all of that happens before Christmas Day!
On Christmas Day, we cook nearly the whole day to serve our guests with a delicious and traditional Christmas goose with apple, chestnut, raisins and honey stuffing. The usual side dishes are Knödel (kind of huge dough balls), red cabbage with cut apples, a baked pear filled with berry marmelade and a traditional brown sauce. One of our desserts on Christmas Eve could be an oven-baked apple stuffed with dark chocolate, dried berries, nuts or marzipan topped with a creamy vanilla sauce and maybe some Schnaps (spirit). We finish the day off drinking a cup of coffee and biscuits, with the possibility of a second trip to church if we are still able to move! The next day we just relax and simply continue to eat….and perhaps there’ll be another goose because we Germans think that Christmas should never end!
As you can see, we have a huge Christmas here in Germany with beautiful markets and fantastic food. With gluhwein, giant Christmas trees and apples stuffed with chocolate, I hope you visit us to experience Christmas in a new way!