08 Dezember 2006

Bavarian Christmas

One thing I really love with the blogs is, that I get to know traditions and life in countries far away. I am always glad when you are writing about special events and the habits of your family, recipes and your holidays. Starting by the 5 o´clock tea in England, across the Chinese New Year to the best Thanksgiving turkey recipes and celebrating Christmas in spring in Australia. For having noticed, that the St. Nikolaus day isn´t celebrated in all countries, I want to tell you something about the German Christmas time. Here in Germany we have wonderful old traditions, but at the same time Germany is and was always oriented by the United States. This is so strange, for example till some years ago Halloween was never a German tradition. Nowadays we have Halloween partys and events, and in some towns the teenagers are doing awful things like squezzing ketchup into letter boxes or throwing old eggs at the entrance of neighbourhood houses. I don´t know, whether this are customs in the US, but I am glad that I live in a very very small village where this does not happen - till now (fingers crossed!). And so sometimes the people here also forget how the Christmas time should be in Germany, when you are in town and in big department stores you could here more often "Jingle Bell" and the Nikolaus looks like a funny Santa Claus, than the Bishop he was and the German Christmas songs.
I am living here in the countryside of Bavaria, and old traditions are still here. And Christmas time is a wonderful time to celebrate and repeat them year by year. I love to have repetitions, they give me comfort and a link between my grandparents, my childhood and my family now. And my country, it is great when everyone is doing the same at some times and every one knows what you are talking about.
So maybe I am telling you now things you are also doing in your country, then please forgive me for not knowing it.

Let me start with the Advents wreath. It presentes the 4 weeks before the Christmas evening. Traditional he is made out of fir, has always 4 red candles and every sunday you are counting down the weeks to Christmas by lighting the candles. I mean, the first Advent sunday has one candle burning, the second two and so on. All 4 candles are burning on the sunday before Christmas or like this year on Christmas itself.
The first weekend of the Advent is also the start of Christmas time here in Germany, that means although you can find mountains of Lebkuchen at the shops in September, only now the shop windows are decorated with Christmas trees, the Christmas songs are played everywhere and the Christkindl-markets are opened.

At the 6th of December is the Nikolausday. Saint Nikolaus was a holy man, a bishop, and he loved children very much. In my childhood he still was a bishop, nowadays he is more dressed like Santa Claus. But Nikolaus is NOT the Weihnachtsmann, which means Santa Claus!
At this special evening he is visiting every child, he has a golden book in which is written down how the child behaved during the last year. And he knows everything, the good and the bad. For having a long white beard his visit is mostly done by an uncle or the father itself and children are always listening with a mix between fear and respect when he is reading aloud all your sins. He is a really good man, so no child has to be afraid of him, he forgives everything but is also giving the children rebukes. Sometimes, in case of really bad behaving children, he is accompanied by Knecht Rupprecht, or Krampus like we say here in Bavaria. This is a wild man, dressed in a dark fur coat and with a rod. He never hurts children in real life, but naughty ones are very very silent when seeing him wagging it. And maybe he is the only one to keep children well behaving for some days.
So either the Saint Nikolaus is coming in "real" at this evening and is giving the children also some presents, just tiny things like chocolate and socks or a book or new pencils, or if he is in a hurry and cannot come by itself, he is filling the shoes of the children. Not the socks, the schoes. To be discovered by them at the next morning.

And now we are coming to the most important person here for Christmas, the Christkind. Above being German I am Bavarian, and we don´t have the Weihnachtsmann, which is comparable to your Santa Claus I think. I really have to say "I think", cause I don´t now. We don´t have him here in Bavaria.

So the Christkind is our representative for the Holy Evening. It is no child and no adult, neither male nor female, no angel, nobody knows exactly who it is. Yes, the Christkind is "it", not she or he. It is always blonde, young and beautiful. Some say it is the young Christ, some it is the angel of announcement, but all this explanation are unsufficient. For us the Christkind is simply the Christkind. Nowone has ever seen it, it is coming down from the heaven to bring joy and peace and of course the Christmas tree and the presents.

And here we are, at the Holy Evening. That means the 24th of December. At this day, and only at this day the Christmas tree is brought into the house, mostly at the sitting/living room. In Germany there are no Christmas trees in the house before this date, although the plain trees are bought earlier and kept outside to keep it fresh. Then, when it is set up in the house, the door of the room is locked, so no children is allowed to go into it, cause now the Christkind is coming and with the help of its angel it is embellishing the tree and bringing the presents. Mostly the father is then collecting the children for a walk, while the mothers are embellishing the tree.

The traditional colours for Christmas and the Christmas time in Germany are green and red and gold, and so are the colours for the tree. It should have beeswax candles, red apples and bows, golden balls and nuts, straw stars and everything glimmering and shimmering. The apples are always smelling wonderful and so are the candles. When everything is done and the children/adults have waited impatiently enough, the Christkind is ringing a bell, a sign that it is leaving now and the family could come to see the beautiful tree. Everyone is proper dressed, the candles are burning, the electric light is switched off, the music is playing and the family is standing or sitting in front of the tree and singing. Then the big distribution of Christmas presents starts, mostly the whole family is together at this evening, I mean the parents, grandparents, children, and sometimes also aunts and uncles and cousins. The meal at this evening is simple, a lot of Germans are eating simple sausages with potatoe salad to keep the women away from spending too much time with cooking, and in a lot of families it is the only evening of the year where the TV stays switched off, it all about talking and laughing and playing games and reading Christmas stories. At about 10 pm the Christmette (Christmass) is starting, so a good opportunity to have a small walk with refreshing air, to move from the sofa to the church bench and although during the year the churches are empty, just a few people are going to church on sundays, at the Holy Evening the churches are crowded. I love it so much when at the end of the mass the lights were switched off, only the very big Christmas tree is illuminated, and the whole crowd is singing "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht" (Silent Night, Holy Night). And when you are walking home again, and the sky is clear and you could see the stars, then it´s time for a special, secret wish. It is a night, where animals can talk and it is also a night where it would be kind to put some extra food for the animals (and the elfs and dwarfs) outside in the garden.

The next two days are also holidays in Germany, two days with a lot of eating, talking, playing with new toys, watching old movies on TV, two very nice and relaxing days.

And now I would love so much to hear how you are spending Christmas time in your country and your family. What are you doing at the evening of the 24th december - are you staying awake all night and drink bowls of egg-flip like to be seen in english/american movies? Is it true that you already now have the Christmas tree in your house? Is the Advent wreath just German? Do you also have Christmas markets in your country? I really want to know it all, please tell me.


Steph hat gesagt…

I just had a really good cry, because you've explained our traditions so beautifully, and making me remember the feelings of anticipation and joy I had as a child, standing in front of the living room door, hearing the little bell, then seeing the glittering tree in the darkened room. Just magical! Now that I live in the States, it's very hard to hold on to German X-mas. At bf's parents house, the 24th is virtually ignored, on the 25th, the whole family meets up and eats a big dinner and distributes presents in the afternoon. It's joyful and noisy and I'm grateful for their kindness to me, but I miss 'our way' nonetheless.

Anonym hat gesagt…

Ah, love that post and I am really looking forward to the different traditions, hopefully will be described here, soon.
Now, talking about a different part of Germany (Cologne, which is at the far Western border and, despite the fact of being a big city, another place of vivid (manly catholic) traditions.):
Halloween is not so much of a story here, yet, because the St. Martinsday with all the parades with self-made lanterns and logfires, special songs and children, collecting sweets at the doors by singing the songs about the story of St. Martin is celebrated on 11.11. Big thing! And we dress up on Karneval, which is a completely different story...

The other traditions, you described for Bavaria, are very similar to our traditions: Adventskranz, Adventskalender, St. Nikolaus (although our Bishop was dressed in red and white, because these are the colours of the city!), the tree up right on the 24th and then the traditional "waiting for the Christkind", till the bell rings. In my parents house a glass bell from Bohemia with a clear, heavenly sound, used only once a year for this purpose. As a child, these were the longest lasting hours of the year!
It is nice to take a brake and think about the magic of these days inbetween the (less magic...) preparations. Thanks a lot. Elke

francoise hat gesagt…

Suzi, this is a wonderful post! I do remember now that st Nicholas day is celebrated in the north of France and Belgium. In Paris, where I come from, this is not the case, but all over France Christmas Eve is the Big celebration with traditionally a big meal and the opening of presents at Midnight (that was in my family) but when we were children we had to wait the morning to see what Father Christmas (le Pere Noel) had brought us. Nowadays, traditions are dying for commercial profit and it is a shame. Now that I live in England, where the tradition of Christmas is like in America, we celebrate Christmas Day. But I always make sure we make something special on Cristmas Eve in fond remembrance of my early years spent in France.

Anonym hat gesagt…

it appears that in the US the biggest tradition these days is the shopping- sad as it may be. its very nice to read abut some real traditions.

Anonym hat gesagt…

Bitte sehr for the detail of Bavarian Christmas traditions. I found your blog a few months and have enjoyed your writing and crafting. I live in Mississippi in the south of the U.S. and am from Missouri in the midwest, and so I can tell you about the Christmas traditions that my family celebrates in these areas. We have an advent wreath that is lit at every evening meal during the advent season. The advent wreath in the U.S. is mostly a Catholic tradition, but recently I’ve read about other denominations using it.

Santa Claus is a very big deal here for children, and some parents will take their children to sit with Santa and tell him what they want for Christmas. This is also a prime Christmas card opportunity too. There is a lot of pressure to send out Christmas cards to friends and family.

Christmas trees. Some people already have their trees up, and a great many of those are artificial. We usually get our tree two weeks before Christmas and try to keep it up until Epiphany. (My husband would love to wait until Christmas eve, but now that we have children, we are always out of town.)

In my family Christmas eve has been just as important as Christmas morning because there was always a family party and then midnight mass. Presents are opened on Christmas morning and followed by a lunch that is either very elaborate -- or not.

frohe Weihnachten,

littlejennywren hat gesagt…

Suzi, I really enjoyed hearing about your Bavarian Christmas. I am familiar with some of your traditions because of my association with the Steiner/waldorf philosophies. Also because my two sons study the german language at school they are familiar with many of your customs. Our family celebrates Christmas a little differently from other Australian families because of these influences. I have been writing about our family's Christmas traditions on my blog.
I love hearing about your life in your village and it is wonderful that you feel such a strong connection to your grandparents.

Marie hat gesagt…

I loved this post! you're so right, it's wonderful to read both about everyday life and holiday traditions in blogs from all over the world. In Norway we have the advent wreath too, except most people use purple candles. There are songs with four verses about the candles, and every advent Sunday you light one more candle and sing one more verse of the song. Most children have some sort of Advent calendar, where they get a small gift or a little piece of chocolate every day. We don't have any St. Nicolaus traditions, although I am aware of the 6 th being his day. I think perhaps it's a forgotten tradition here. On the 13th we celebrate St. Lucia day, with children dressed in white carrying candles, they sing the Lucia song, and there are special cakes baked for this day. It's a Swedish tradition that we have a adopted. (And like you, we are also starting to celebrate Halloween, it seems to be spreading in Europe). What really strikes me about your traditions, is that they are very familiar, and we have the same ones, but ours seem bleak and watered out compared to yours. Your wonderful story about the Christmas tree in the dark room, reminds me of my grandmother's childhood memories. I think most Norwegians decorate the tree fairly late, in my family we used to do it on the 24th, but now we do it on the 23rd. But it's a family activity now, in which the children participate. The 24th is the big day. Many people go to church in the afternoon, and then at five it's officially Christmas. Dinner is a big, traditional, heavy! meal on this day, and afterwards the presents are opened. Our santa is a strange mixture of St. Nicolaus and little gnomes from traditional folklore. The 25th is a quiet family day, some people go to church, some go for a walk, perhaps you have dinner with your close family, but you shouldn't visit anyone else on this day. The idea I guess is to respect everybody's need for a really private and quiet day of rest.

Marietta hat gesagt…

"Above being German I am Bavarian," - that is such a great quote! :) I intend to blog about this one too - but that is because we were raised in an Italian/ Catholic - Jewish home and there are a lot of strange traditions in our house. So alot of what happens at Christmas in our house had to do with when Hanukah landed on the calendar. Our advent wreath (w/ 1 purple candle) was next to the menorah which was next to the cresh, or nativity scene. Christmas eve is more important in our immediate family - which makes it easier when there are little one in the house, so the 25th is about the kinder-le and Santa.

I have always loved christmas in germany/austria - whether you are christian or not, it is part of the culture and so magical - reminds one of childhood. I am so excited to be having a baby now, since i can go to the german, austrian AND swiss embassies next year with a perfectly good excuse in stroller when they have their nikolaus/krampus parties! Lebkuchen u. gluehwein....

Maggie hat gesagt…

I like your descriptions, I tried this week to explain Nikolaus, too... In my family we also have the christkind (in Saarland), with a small bell to call the children on the 24th when it had _just_ left the room.
I live in Munich now, and I love all the christmas markets. The other part of my family is from France, and I once spent christmas there, but did miss the German traditions... The Père noel comes in the night to the 25th and brings presents, and you have a big dinner on the 24th. The trees and decorations have much more colours, a bit like in the US, I think. In the last few years, you start to find Lebkuchen and Stollen in some supermarkets (Lidl spreads German traditions...), and my French family insists on homemade christmas cookies from me.
Hope you enjoy the remaining Advent! :-)

Anonym hat gesagt…

I grew up in a family that was a mix of Eastern European nationalities. We have an advent calendar, celebrate St Nicholas Day, and have our big meal on Christmas Eve and then go to Midnight Mass. Christmas Day we open gifts and have yummy leftovers from Christmas Eve dinner - and lots of Christmas cookies and cakes. We just put up our tree (real) and it will stay up until Epiphany. Mickey

Anonym hat gesagt…

ps I grew up in and live in NYC USA.

kimberly hat gesagt…

What a wonderful post! I'm trying to do both traditions in our house the best I can. Someone commented about Christmas in the us being about shopping and I don't agree. In our family gift giving was a big thing and I still love to give people gifts at Christmas. Of course, gift giving means shopping but not always. Today we are making cards to tape to some chocolates for my kids' teachers and bus drivers. I'll see if I can write up a post about the traditions in our house. If time allows.

Poshyarns hat gesagt…

Oh what a lovely, evocative post. Thank you so much for sharing this with us, I loved reading your post and have never come across Christkind before. I am going tell my children all about this after school today, they will love hearing about these different traditions.

Strikkelise hat gesagt…

This is such a lovely posting. Thanks for sharing your Christmas traditions. I recognize some, and some I don't, like the Nikolaus thing. We decorate the tree on the evening of the 23rd, after the smaller kids have gone to bed. Your tree looks almost exactly like mine!
Btw we use the gingerbread cookies for eating, but sometimes we hang some on the tree, too.

Mhairi hat gesagt…

Like Steph, I had a really good cry too - the whole description of Advent and Christmas is beautiful.
My friends mother is German and always has a traditional Christmas Eve Dinner and gift giving.
Christmas in Scotland is similar to US, but it is only in recent history (mid-20th century) that Christmas became a holiday here, Hogmanay (New Years Eve) was the main celebration.
Halloween was a great time too (I think it is originally a Scottish/British celebration), where all the children would dress up and go round the neighbours houses to perform songs/jokes , then be rewarded with fruit , nuts , sweeties (candy) and money. I can still smell the apples and nuts, an I adored Halloween. Instead of being called trick or treat, it was called going out on your Galoshins.

At Christmas, we would get a "real" fir tree, as my father detested artificial ones, about a week before 25th December.
The whole month of December would be filled with singing at Church, Christmas Carol concerts, opening the Advent Calendar, and going into town to see the lights and do some Christmas shopping.
A stocking was put at the end of the bed and filled with small presents , an apple , tangerine, and some chocolate.
The Big presents were always under the tree, and I don't think I ever slept in on the 25th (5am was the usual waking up time then). We'd go to church , then dash back for Bacon sandwiches at my Aunts house. the whole morning was taken up with visiting and delivering gifts.
The big dinner with all the Grandmas/Aunties/Uncles was just after the Queens speech at 3pm , then after that we'd play with toys while the adults watched a James Bond Movie on television.
Now Christmas items arrive in the shops in October, there are French and German markets that visit (wonderful!) , and people hit each other for the last tub of double cream in the shops on Christmas Eve ! It is what you make it I suppose.
I still love it because I remember that magical feeling as a child.
And I get it all over again a week later at Hogmanay - cleaning the house, getting the cake and shortbread ready, along with the ginger wine. Family and friends first footing after the "bells" (midnight), and where I come from the sound of the Tug boats' foghorns sounding midnight.
And always always it is Steak Pie in an ashette for New Years Day dinner.
I am so glad I found your Blog, by reading Posh Yarns, and KEDcrafty blogs. Have a wonderful Christmas.

Kristin La Flamme hat gesagt…

Thanks for sharing. We are American living in Germany, so we have the best of both worlds. i really appreciate your wonderful descriptions of the traditions. We are adopting many German traditions as this is what the kids are learning about in school. Our tree is already up and decorated (in the American tradition), but we have an AdventsKranz and Nikolaus left small toys in the kids' shoes. We celebrate a little Halloween because I loved it as a kid, but Fasching is now our big dress up party! Easter for me was always a brunch with family and an egg hunt. Now we've added a small tree or bush decorated with eggs in the German tradition.

Anonym hat gesagt…

thank you for a wonderful post that actually made me nostalgic for a christmas i never even had! i live in the pacific northwest in the u.s.a. and wanted to share some of our traditions. america is such a young country, and so diverse in backgrounds, i think this is why we don't have a huge "tradition" that nearly everyone shares, because there are so many different traditions. i suspect that this is why the commercial side of christmas crept in and is what we all hear about, the shopping and the gift-giving santa, but the reality is that there are many traditions not centered in shopping malls- they are just all different. in my mostly anglo-saxon family our traditions include the advent calendar that another commenter mentioned, with a song sung before the treat is given to children after dinner each night leading up to christmas. we also used to meet with my cousins to decorate cookies early in december, and now my daughter and nephews do this together. i think that making food (fruitcake way back when, now any sweets or even jars spaghetti or barbecue sauce from a family recipe) as a family and then giving it as a gift to others is pretty common here. there is also a stronger focus on charity at this time of year, and many stores display boxes where you can give gifts and foods to be distributed to those in need. people do decorate to the max here, beginning after thanksgiving and usually with lights on the eaves of their houses, but sometimes including lighted reindeer and santas, etc. on the front lawn! when i was little my parents would drive us to the most decorated street in our town to enjoy the lights. our (real) tree is up with store bought and some handmade ornaments as well as more electrical lights in early december. "holiday parties" are common throughout the month to celebrate in offices with coworkers, or at home with friends. my family always joined with the same family on christmas eve for sausages (they had scandinavian ancestry) and drinks. on christmas morning the children find a gift left by "santa" under the tree that already had gifts from family members to each other. in my family we also do lots of singing around this time of a range of songs, both religious and silly (rudolph the red-nosed reindeer). my husband is chinese-american and we plan to continue his family's tradition of preparing some chinese foods as well for christmas dinner. i have to say our christmas traditions are pretty jumbled and don't have the simple beauty of an older more unified tradition, but christmas is still a time for being with your family, celebrating (and sharing) your heritage, showing kindness to others, and reflecting on the past year, and that is beautiful and meaningful enough even amid the noise and lights.

Suzanne hat gesagt…

One of my favorite traditions at Christmas is our tree. As a family we choose and cut down a fir tree that will last about 4 weeks. Trimming the tree feels like greeting old friends as we uncover treasured ornaments that mark the years. My mother has shared that her parents indeed placed the tree and all the Christmas presents on Christmas Eve. As children she would wake to a magical world on Christmas morning.

Esther hat gesagt…

It's past midnight here when i'm reading your post and all the comments...Wow, it's marvelous to read and discover all those different ways of celebrating...
I'm leaving in the francophone province of Canada, Quebec, but our family tradition is a mix-and-match of many traditions because the France tradition is a looooooong way behind but a little still here, we live with and by the side a lot of anglophones with other traditions, one of my sisters-in-law is German by her parents(Mennonite)...
I go to the church from 4h30 to 10 in the evening of 24th, playing piano at the mass or being responsable of one Nativity play by chidren.
We celebrate in the night of 24th to 25th, but never before 00 on the clock...having a specially garnish table, mostly homemade appetizers but a wedge of the first porkpie of the season that we name "tourtière" that we eat with cranberries sauce, sparkling wine, some homemade sweets and then comes the time for gifts for all members. I've 6 children(and a husband...) between 13 and 29(2 s and 4 d) and the 4 older ones come with their love one...Everybody sleep at home(with beds everywhere !) and we have a special brunch at about 12 o'clock. Thereafter, we play many family social games, laugh a lot, eat a little too much, sing carols with piano, guitar...sometimes(but seldom) we have a snow storm...the biggest fear is then an electricity breakdown !!!
The Christmas is inside home about one week before the special night. I don't put extravanga of lights outside like many people around, I hate it so much ! I prefer boughs of true evergreen with red bows ... simple and lively...

Katja hat gesagt…

Danke für diesen wundervollen Eintrag, liebe Suzi!
LG Katja

Anonym hat gesagt…

Great to hear about your traditions! I will tell you about mine.

I am Canadian.

We do an Advent wreath in church. There are 5 candles though: 4 for the Sundays of Advent and 1 for Christmas Eve. Three of them are blue or violet, one is rose (for Gaudete Sunday), and the white one is in the middle of the wreath (it's for Christmas Eve).

Many people start decorating early in December. I usually put my tree up about a week before Christmas. I leave it up until after Epiphany (January 6).

In my family growing up, the main celebration was on Christmas Day (the 25th). We woke up early to see what Santa Claus had brought us in our stockings. We always had a special breakfast (but not always the same thing). My father always read the Christmas story from the Bible. After that, we exchanged presents. After church, we had our Christmas dinner, probably around 1:00 or so. It was always turkey. Rest of the day was for relaxing, playing with new toys, etc. We never did very much on Christmas Eve, maybe sing carols together and eat some Christmas cookies. "Halvah" was a special treat that we had only at Christmas.

But I married a French-Canadian and they do things differently. You go to Midnight Mass, then you come home and have a big dinner (in the middle of the night), and then you open presents. It is called the "réveillon". Tourtière (a meat pie) is one of the traditional foods. The dessert is usually a "buche de Noel" (a cake shaped like a log). You go to bed very late and nothing much happens on Christmas Day itself.

For me I try to make sure that Christmas is not focused on shopping, gifts, materialism, consumerism. I do send Christmas cards, but not every year. I only give gifts to immediate family. I also try to find a special book of devotions to use during Advent. I like to make simply handmade Christmas decorations. And I have a wooden Nativity Scene that I set up every year.

mmyra hat gesagt…

wow... the best to read if one wants to kno about Bavarian Christmas... Loved this Post... and the Christmas in so beautifully celebrated there. i had heard about it from a Bavarian friend of mine, and then reading about it made me feel to connected...
i wish i could follow your blogs!!!

Kathy, the Single-minded Offshoot hat gesagt…

I have just discovered your blog post about Bavarian Christmas customs and it was so very interesting to me. I live in the United States, the state of Wisconsin where the percentage of people of German descent is very high. My sister and I are a mixture of Bavarian, Rhinelander, and Egerlander. Many of the traditions you describe were still part of our celebration when I was a child, but that was 60 years ago but so much has changed since then. Now most people in Wisconsin try to shop, bake, have Christmas parties, with fully trimmed trees, and throw away the tree a few days after Christmas because by then the tree has been in the house for a month and its needles are dropping badly or because everyone is sick of seeing it.

Just last week, I wrote a blog post about the German Christmas traditions that survived until my childhood. Since my Mom, the Bavarian, and my Dad, the Rhinelander, had that mixtures of traditions, I wondered if any of them were unique to Bavaria or the Rhineland. That's how I found this blog post.

I loved reading all the comments and couldn't resist adding my own thoughts and the web address of the blog post I mentioned: "Christmas Traditions Cross the Ocean" at http://19thcenturyrhinelandlive.blogspot.com/

I wish I had found your post six years ago!

Kathy, the Single-minded Offshoot hat gesagt…

Oops! I meant to also say that our mother's ancestors came from the Bayerischer Wald - Brandten, Regen, and Langdorf in Kreis Regen and that Mom, my sister and I visited those places and and were amazed at how beautiful the area is.

Linda Collins hat gesagt…
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