Christmas in Germany
Doors into "das Weihnachtszimmer" swing open, and children rush through stopping as they reach a newly decorated Christmas tree. It is a Christmas in Germany, and this is "Heiligabend" (Holy Evening), the most eagerly awaited and most significant of Germany's Twelve Days of Christmas.
Light in the Christmas Room comes from the tree, the favorite a real conifer with wax candles, while by the Weihnachtskrippe, the nativity tableau with stable and figures, lie piles of presents.
Could those be feathers hanging from a curtain alongside the slightly open window?
Advent has come to an end, the twelve days of Weihnachten have begun and "Christkind", the Christ Child, has made his annual visit to homes but, yet again, somehow the children have just missed him.
Christkind with angel's wings. A creation of Martin Luther, the protestant reformer, in 16th century Germany, as the "bringer of gifts" on Heiligabend, replacing the saints days of St. Nicholas, December 6th, or St. Martin on November 11th. The days when presents had been exchanged traditionally.
Christkind, who doesn't have to work or live on his own as bands of angels from the Heavenly Workshop, Himmelswerkstatt, are with him, was soon adopted by Catholic families.
Followed by many of the country's non-Christians, as well as having spread world wide, Germany's Weihnachten celebrations are are a rich colorful mixture of religious, secular, folk and food traditions that vary slightly from region to region.
Although Christkind, who as the Christ Child is the son of God, is always seen as a young girl.
A Christmas Eve falling on a Sunday is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent and the celebrations begin at sundown, but on any other day stores, businesses and Christmas Markets shut at 1 pm throughout the country and the afternoon is filled with preparations for the evening.
Protestant church services take place during the afternoon before presents are passed out, while a Catholic mass will be late in the evening, "Midnight Mass" and are always filled to overflowing.
In homes where "the Christkind brings the Christmas tree" this is decorated secretly with Speculatuis and Lebkuchen cookies, traditional hand crafted glass, wooden, straw, crochet or fabric ornaments, nuts and apples, and often wax candles, but definitely no pickle.
And children are kept occupied somewhere far away, perhaps at a children's church service with a nativity play and Christmas carols.
They never see who brings their gifts on December 24 but are told these are brought by Christkind, this is 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. The "Bescherung", exchange of presents, is then followed by a traditional meal.
The strict Fast that used to be kept to during Advent has few followers these days, but the Christmas Eve menu, for what would have been its last evening, still remains simple.
Probably fish or some of the many different types of sausage with potato salad.
December 25, the "First Day of Christmas" - "der erste Weihnachtstag", is spent with relatives, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and friends, and as a complete contrast to the simplicity of Christmas Eve there is an enormous amount of food, with roast goose and all its traditional side dishes perhaps the most popular.
Then Germans have a "Second Day of Christmas" - "der zweite Weihnachtstag", to enjoy.
Another public holiday with family outings and reunions and, as the official saints day of St. Stephen the patron saint of horses, this is a day filled with a mixture of horse events and customs. In rural areas all local horses, from thoroughbreds to work horses, are led in procession through the neighborhood to be blessed.
Meanwhile, despite an absence of the weeks long fast that used to lead up to Weihnachten, this is another day filled with vast amounts of traditional food specialties and treats.
In fact the festive fun continues because there are twelve Weihnachtstage, Christmas days, in Germany. Celebrations and traditions that end in Epiphany, "Twelfth Night".
One age old custom is rarely followed these days. 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.
Not because they deserved a well earned rest after all their work with Weihnachten preparations and throughout the rest of the year, but because this was believed to bring bad luck.
Epiphany brings the celebration to an end for another year, until once again it is time for Advent to begin on the Sunday closest to November 30 November, St. Andrews Day.
A Merry Christmas............Happy Holidays
Photo: Weihnachten Christkind 1893 Catholic Newspaper via commons.wikimedia.org - Christmas Tree via Für Sie
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