Christmas in Germany and it is after sunset on Christmas Eve, Heiligabend (Holy Evening). The sound of small bell ringing suddenly echoes through the air, the door into 'das Weihnachtszimmer' swings open and through it rush children who come to a halt by a newly decorated Christmas tree.
All light in the Christmas Room comes from the tree, often a real conifer covered with wax candles, and a pile of presents lie by the Weihnachtskrippe, a nativity tableau with stable and figures, perhaps under the Christmas tree or on a specially decorated table.
A window is slightly open and some angel hair, or maybe a feather, hangs from the curtain alongside it, while outside a lamp glimmers.
Advent has come to an end, the twelve days of Weihnachten have, begun and the Christkind, the Christ Child, has made his annual visit to their home and yet again they have just missed him.
"Christkind" with its angel's wings was a creation of Martin Luther, the protestant reformer, in 16th century Germany, and intended as an alternative bringer of gifts on Heiligabend instead of the saints days of St. Nicholas, December 6th, or St. Martin on November 11th, when presents had been traditionally exchanged. As time passed the "Christkind" was also adopted by Catholic families, so it is good that he does not have to work on his own, bands of angels from the Heavenly Workshop, Himmelswerkstatt, are there to help him.
Now Germany's Weihnachten, Christmas, celebrations are followed by many of the country's non-Christians as well as having spread world wide, and are a rich and colorful mixture of religious, secular, folk and food traditions, which often vary slightly from region to region.
While "Christkind", who as the Christ Child is the son of God, is always seen in public as a young girl.
Should Christmas Eve fall on a Sunday it is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent with Christmas Eve beginning at sundown, but on all other days shops and businesses shut at 1 pm on Christmas Eve throughout the country, and the afternoon is filled with preparations for the evening.
Protestant church services take place during the afternoon before the presents are given, while a Catholic mass will be late in the evening, and "Midnight Mass" is very popular and well attended.
In homes where it is believed 'the Christkind brings the Christmas tree' it is decorated secretly with Speculatuis and Lebkuchen cookies, traditional hand crafted glass, wooden and straw ornaments, nuts and apples, and often wax candles, while the children are otherwise occupied. Perhaps at a children's church service with a nativity play and Christmas carols.
Children don't see who brings their gifts on December 24th but are told they are brought by either Christkind, mainly in the Southern part of the country, or by the Weihnachtsmann, Santa Claus, and the evening is a time spent together with close family, during which the exchange of presents, known as 'Bescherung' takes place, together with a traditional evening meal.
Although the Fast that used to take place during Advent is no longer followed, the Christmas Eve menu for what would have been its last evening continues to remain something simple, such as fish or different types of sausage with potato salad.
December 25th, the 'First Day of Christmas' der erste Weihnachtstag, is spent in the company of relatives, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and friends, while, as a contrast to the simplicity of Christmas Eve, there is an enormous amount of food on offer with roast goose and all its traditional side dishes perhaps the most popular.
Germans then have a 'Second Day of Christmas', der zweite Weihnachtstag, to enjoy. Another public holiday with family outings and reunions, during which, as it is officially the saints day of St. Stephen the patron saint of horses, there are a mixture of horse events and customs, including in rural areas where all the local horses are led in procession through the neighborhood to be blessed.
Meanwhile, despite there no longer having been weeks of strict fasting before hand, the day is again filled with vast amounts of traditional food specialties and treats.
In fact the festive fun continues because in Germany there are twelve Weihnachtstage, Christmas days, with celebrations and traditions leading to Epiphany, "Twelfth Night".
One age old custom which is rarely followed these days is the Bavarian tradition of 'The Twelve Quiet Days', when the women of the family were not allowed to do any baking, washing, cleaning or spinning for the duration.
However this was not because they deserved a well earned rest after all their work with Weihnachten preparations and throughout the rest of the year, but because it was believed to bring bad luck.
With Epiphany the celebrations finally come to an end for another year, until once again it is time for Advent to begin on the Sunday closest to 30th November, St. Andrews Day.
A Merry Christmas............Happy Holidays
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Weihnachten Christkind 1893 Catholic Newspaper via commons.wikimedia.org, Weihnachts baum with wooden "Nut cracker" soldier home photo