OT: Germany 101 – The Most Wonderful Time of Year

A blog award regularly makes the rounds in my sphere of the interwebs. It’s called the “Liebster Award”, and it is basically a way to meet the blogger behind the facade of the blog. It consists of a catalogue of questions that a nominated blogger has to answer in a blog post – and then nominate further bloggers to answer a new catalogue of questions posed by the blogger herself. Suzy of Silverbluelining has rung in the season with a number of questions about Christmas, and I have decided to take up the challenge and make it topical. After all, Mr A is in need of some cultural coaching, now that he has professed his love for Germany. Ok, in a different context, but nonetheless, as offspring from the Fazerland, let me tell you that *this* is the most wonderful time of year to be in Germany.

Christmas is big in Teutonic lands, there are many, many customs surrounding Christmas, and even though most Germans are fairly secular, they enjoy the traditions and rituals. Not least because they centre around food, family and frink, eh, drink. So Mr A is lucky to be in Berlin right now, which has plenty of Christmas markets and lots of seasonal atmosphere. I hope Mr A will get an insight into the domestic traditions, too – and they are the focus of Suzy’s questions. And since I am a fairly average German and ever more so because I live in exile, this is quite characteristic of Djerman Christmas. So, let’s jump in.

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1. Do you have an Advent wreath? Classical? Round? Or something new every year? Creatively hand-made or creatively bought on your own?

I usually do. I make it myself because wreaths, although available in Ireland, are quite expensive here. They probably look quite traditional – just the green wreath and the candles. I like it as plain as possible. But they look slightly different every year.

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For the readers who are not familiar with the advent wreath: The advent wreath is traditionally a Lutheran (protestant) Christmas tradition. The four candles symbolise the four weeks before Christmas. The first candle is lit on the first of advent, on the second of advent there are two candles burning, on the third three and so on. Read more about the origins here.

2. Do you have an Advent calendar? With sweets? Hand crafted or bought? With a special motif?

Sadly, I do not get an advent calendar anymore. My mother used to make a different one for me, every year, filled with little presents, until I was about 25. The privileges of being an only child… I am keeping up the tradition and am making one for my children now. I used to make a different design every year, but then, a few years ago, I made a couple of Christmas stockings for them that held a present for every day. The kids loved them and have insisted on using them as an advent calendar ever since – maybe because the stockings are a nod to anglo Christmas traditions?

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3. Which is your most favourite Christmas dinner? A traditional one? Any recipe for us……?

Hm, tricky question. You see, for me, Christmas is Christmas Eve – the day when presents are exchanged in Germany. Traditionally, food is actually quite simple on Christmas Eve, though – the likes of frankfurters and potato salad. The big feast is reserved for the *actual* Christmas Day, the 25th. (In my family, we eat poultry on Christmas Day, either roast turkey or chicken.) But on Christmas Eve, we have a simple hot meal for lunch (as is usual in Germany), consisting of fried Silesian sausages, sauerkraut and potatoes. This is a tradition that came with my paternal, Silesian grandparents, but my mother happily kept it up. I do, too – even in Ireland…

4. A typical ritual at Christmas? Something special for your country and/or your family?

Two answers: For myself, my favourite ritual is putting up the Christmas tree and decorating it on the morning of Christmas Eve. Yup. That late. That’s how we roll in Germany. But as an ex-pat with an extended Irish family, I have taken on some of their rituals, too. I particularly like my in-law-family’s traditional Christmas walk on St. Stephen’s Day (26th) when the whole family (12 adults and 13 children at this point) goes for a walk to “the Holly tree” in a valley in Co. Wicklow.

5462647850_733ceda8f9_b5. Your most favourite christmas movie/series…

As a child, I used to love the annual children’s TV series that broadcaster ZDF put on. Timm Thaler was my favourite, based on the children’s book by one of my favourite authors, James Krüss. It is the story of a young boy who sells his smile to an evil baron in exchange for winning any bet. He soon regrets the deal and goes on a journey to get his laugh back. A few years ago I bought the DVD, and I look forward to putting this on again, this year.

The child actor Tommi Ohrner was also my first ever fan crush, at the tender age of 10. I guess you could say I was doomed…

6. What kind of music do you prefer on Christmas Eve?

Personally, I like to keep it classy. The Christmas Oratorio by Bach all the way. “Jauchzet, frohlocket! *tam tam ta ta ta taa taa taa* Lobpreiset die Tage! Jauchzet, frohlocket!!!”

Mind you, for a joke, I nowadays put on Godewind’s album Wiehnacht achtern diek. My dad bought that record in 1983, and it was put on every fckin’ year… I used to cringe and hate it – typical early 80s peacenik guitar tinkling *retching noises*. I won’t spare you – here’s a clip. It’s interesting, though, because it is sung in plattdeutsch, the Northern German dialect that bears resemblance to both Dutch and English. (I can speak it, too.)

 

7. Are you celebrating with your whole family? Alone ? With friends?

Christmas has always been *the* family holiday for me. I grew up as an only child, and Christmas Eve was celebrated with my parents and my maternal grandparents, with everything centreing around me me me. I am telling you, it was a shock when my first child entered the scenario and I was not the centre of attention anymore… LOL.  So Christmas was always reserved for the nuclear family. Until a few years ago. Here is a Christmas sob story, make a cup of tea, sit back, and have a tissue ready:

And it came to pass that it was the afternoon of Christmas Eve. It was a cold winter’s day, and snow had been falling all day – a highly unusual occurrence in Ireland at the best of times. All roads were covered in snow, and there was no sign of the weather turning. Snug with a cup of tea and a Christmas biscuit (see 9. below), Guylty and family were pitying the travellers stranded on their way to their Christmas celebrations – when the telephone rang. An ex-pat friend was on the phone, she and her family were stuck at Dublin airport, flights cancelled and no way to get home to Germany for Christmas or back to their house in a town two hours away from Dublin, such was the weather. Could they come and stay with us? Guylty swallowed. Christmas Eve with outsiders under the tree? Unthinkable. I hesitated the shame!!!  and stalled a decision by pretending I had to confer with Mister Guylty over this inconceivable suggestion. Once enlightened about the situation, the best husband of all choked with indignation in my general direction. What was I thinking? These were my friends, this was Christmas, surely the only and the right thing to do, was to invite them to celebrate with us!!! I sheepishly agreed and rang my friends back to invite her, husband and two kids to celebrate with us. Literally a minute later another German ex-pat friend rang, herself a single mother of a daughter. What were our plans for Christmas Eve, she asked delicately. Guylty did not even beat around the bush anymore but immediately invited her over, too. – Later that evening we stretched the traditional bratwurst and sauerkraut to feed 10, stuffed ourselves on biscuits, got merry on Glühwein, the children played, the adults chatted. With five adults and five children between six and twelve, we had the *best* Christmas Eve ever. Next time, Guylty will not hesitate again.

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8. Are you going to have a Christmas tree? With any decoration – an individual work of art? Discreet or everything the Christmas shop has offered?

I have a Christmas tree every second year – because we alternate the annual Christmas celebration between my parents’ (now mother’s) home in Germany and our home in Ireland. The decor is slightly different every year, and mostly traditional, comprising the now almost 100 year old silver Christmas baubles inherited from my grandmother and the collection of Hutschenreuther crystal baubles. This year I must do without a Christmas tree – but I am displaying my Christmas treasures elsewhere.

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9. Your favorite Christmas cookie?

Tough one. Undecided between classic Vanillekipferl and Spitzbuben. But there is one thing I have a decided opinion on: Christmas biscuits have to be home-baked. Everything else is not good enough. Tempted to send Mr A a small tin of home-baked Christmas biscuits, alas they would arrive as crumbs, so I won’t… But if you would like to try baking them, here are the recipes:

Vanillekipferl

Combine 200g butter, 100g ground hazelnuts or almonds, 60g sugar and 280g flour. Leave to rest in the fridge for at least 2 hrs. Make half-moon shapes of the dough and bake at 195°C for about 12 min. Let biscuits cool on rack. Mix icing sugar with vanilla sugar in a soup plate. Carefully roll the kipferl and cover in vanilla icing sugar mix.

Spitzbuben

Combine 125g butter, 100g sugar, 125 flour, 125g ground hazelnuts or almonds, 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar, 1/2 a short teaspoon of baking powder. Leave to rest in the fridge for at least 2 hrs. Take generous thumb-size pieces of dough, roll into balls, push your thumb into middle to make a “nest”. Fill the hollow with a mixture of whisked egg-yoke and cream. Bake at 195°C for 15 mins.

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There, that’s German Christmas in an ex-pat setting. Let me end by saying that I *love* Christmas, despite being a hardened agnostic. It’s the most wonderful time of year, an occasion to stay in, having tea and biscuits in candle-light, displaying all the colourful knickknacks that a modern minimalist home usually avoids. And most of all it is a family-and-friends season during which you can re-connect with everyone, lean back, relax and alternatingly put your feet or knees up.

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What’s the season like where you are? Tell me – or Suzy – in the comments or on your blog. I love reading about the season in other parts of the world. After all, the dark season has its traditions, no matter whether we are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu…

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37 thoughts on “OT: Germany 101 – The Most Wonderful Time of Year

  1. Oh, Du bist ja schnell wie der Wind, wow!!!
    Ist das eine german Tradition, dass es an Heiligabend etwas Einfaches gibt? Keine Ahnung, aber auch bei uns muss es schnell gehen, so mit Kirche, Essen, Geschenke auspacken…… 🙂
    Die Idee mit dem Christmas Walk an einen bestimmten Ort finde ich schön. Irgendwann muss man sich ja bewegen, immer nur Essen geht auch nicht und wenn dann alle mitlaufen ist das sehr schön familiär ❤
    Timm Thaler, jaaa ich erinnere mich! Das haben wir damals auch gesehen, wäre für mich jetzt allerdings nicht typisch weihnachtlich, Der Junge der sein Lachen verkauft hat, spannend und tragisch. Von Tommi Ohrner hat man danach nicht mehr viel gesehen oder?
    Das Weihnachtsoratorium versuchen wir immer irgenwo 'live' zu sehen. Es gibt doch nichts besinnlicheres als in einer kalten Kirche auf harten Holzbänken der Weihnachtsmusik zu lauschen…..
    Godewind kannte ich nicht – so als Süddeutsche, lausche gerade fasziniert 🙂
    okay, es heisst biscuit nicht cookie, wieder was gelernt!
    Schöne Geschichte! Ich könnte mir gut vorstellen später mal, wenn die kids ihre eigenen Familien haben,mit Freunden Weihnachten zu feiern ❤
    Die Zutaten für Vanillekipferl sind gekauft und heute nachmittag lege ich los!
    Ganz liebe Grüße an Euch und a big hug fürs mitmachen!!!

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    • Jooo, ich hatte nichts Besseres zu tun und hab beim Schreiben dann auch ausgiebig im Fotoarchiv den Erinnerungen gefrönt.
      Das mit dem Essen scheint recht typisch deutsch zu sein. Ich kenne niemanden, der an Heiligabend groß kocht. Hat natürlich auch damit zu tun, dass das zeitlich schwierig liegt, v.a. wenn man kleine Kinder hat. Geschenke werden ja ausgerechnet dann ausgepackt, wenn man eigentlich beim Essen sitzt… Ich finde es irgendwie schön, dass diese Tradition bei so vielen Menschen weiterlebt.
      Der Christmas Walk ist so eine Sache… der findet bei jedem Wetter statt. Und das ist in Irland an Weihnachten meistens grauenvoll. Grrrrr…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very enjoyable post, complete with recipes!–I especially liked your story about the unexpected guests because I would have felt just the same, and my husband would have reacted just the same 🙂

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  3. All kinds of insights 🙂 It’s fascinating to me how many similarities in practice I recognize (I am of German descent on my mother’s side and Dutch on my father’s). Do you celebrate St. Nicholas Day this weekend? We always hung our stockings on the 5th to find them filled with treats on the 6th 😁

    Happy Advent to you!!

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    • Yes, St Nicholas is on this weekend. Let’s see if the kids remember to place their boots outside their door. That’s how it’s done in my area. You leave your boots outside your room before you go to bed on the 5th. In the morning you find them filled with chocolate and little presents. I love those little customs, and even though the children are too old to believe in Santa anymore, I am going to continue with this for as long as I can 🙂

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  4. What a lovely post! (And love the photos you shared as well… actually managed to make me feel a bit festive, which I haven’t been feeling so far!!) I’m notoriously bad about decorating, though I for some reason love to “shop” for Christmas decorations during the after-Christmas sales and have some really great stuff. But when it comes down to it, I hate to *actually* pull that stuff out of storage, and *actually* decorate. This year we’re going to Florida so I thought I’d skip all that entirely, with exception of Christmas stockings over the mantel, and of course shopping and wrapping presents. Very lazy!

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    • I am really glad you liked it, J. As always, it feels far too egocentric to me, but well, I unashamedly love Christmas, so there 😉
      You know, if we had better storage spaces, I am sure we’d be better at decorating all year ’round 😄. The fact that the stuff is hidden in the attic, makes it extra-difficult…
      But hey, Florida – nice one. Mind you, I cannot imagine spending Christmas in a warm climate… it is inextricably linked with winter and cold weather for me… Looking forward to hearing your reports!

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  5. Timm Thaler! I forgot about that, barely remember what it was about but I do remember liking it! 🙂
    Lovely to read about all your Christmas activities and traditions! And my, you were quick answering this one!

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  6. I would like to thank you for writing this.My father was born in Essen. came to America as a young man,he never spoke of Germany or taught me German.I asked many times and his reply was”I am here now”I am so happy you gave me this incite to my heritage.I shall now do some of your traditions. Again thank you.

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    • Oh, such a pity you did not grow up with some German culture. (Tends to be a bit more difficult to pass on from father to children, as they tend to be the ones who are out working more than the mothers, hence less opportunity to speak the language and to pass on the culture). He probably had his reasons, too…
      But it’s lovely for me to think that my little post has given you some ideas to incorporate into your own Christmas traditions.

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  7. Your German/Irish traditions sound lovely. Next year I am planning on getting stranded in Dublin so you can take me in for Christmas.

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  8. This was great to read. I confess that I am a big fan of Godewind and Wiehnachtn achtern Diek. Also, those little angels, exSO’s sister has the whole Wendt & Kühn orchestra, and I completely associate them w/German Xmas.

    Hmm, maybe I’ll write about my German Xmases as part of this. Meanwhile, a tip if you like plattdeutsch culture — there’s a musical written and performed by an Emden band called “Lükko der Leuchturm,” sung in East Frisian platt. The songs make me tear up every time.

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    • LOL – I think I will forgive you for that confession (fan of Godewind). As a non-German it is actually quite an exotic sort of taste 😉
      I will check out Lükko – I do love plattdeutsch, after all…

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  9. Pingback: Liebster Award – Weihnachten | silverbluelining

  10. Reminded of a Christmas eve back in my university days. I was a forgetful nerd girl not interested in obtaining a boyfriend. As a result, took no one seriously, nor remembered who (or if) I agreed to dinner/movie with. I never dated in high school. On this particular Christmas eve, I had just reached the ripe old age of 19 so fairly inexperienced and obviously dumb in the romance arena. The poor man I ended up marrying was just starting to try and penetrate (seriously, not a euphemism) my dense brain to convey his interest in me ‘romantically’ all the while I was never getting his not-so-subtle hints. (I met him for the first time the year before having dinner with my mom, bros/sisters.) Anyhoo, I now vaguely remember him asking to take me to dinner on this Christmas eve, but another guy, I’m still friends with came over and proceeded to make tea to go with the food he brought. My idea of a well stocked kitchen then was, teabags, malto-meal and pickles. I was futzing around with the stereo, when my future hubs rang the doorbell. Clueless as usual, I invited him in, he handed me a present and I got him a cup of tea completely forgetting I said I would go out with him that night. (sigh, yes, I am a total jack-ass) He was furious to find another man settling down for dinner in my apartment, but I never knew it. He reminded me of that incident a few years ago (we have been married forever now) and how thoughtless I was. I am grateful for that Christmas memory and thankful he is so patient with me. His example makes me a better person. I need to remember to submit him for sainthood. My point? While you may feel bad for ‘hesitating’ before agreeing to take your friends in while they were stranded, you didn’t actually say or do the wrong thing. 😀

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    • Thanks for that story, Mimi! I guess we all have been guilty for occasionally neglecting (and hurting) people who deserve to be treated better. Luckily it all worked out well in the end, in your story and in mine. But we do well to remember…

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