Thursday, December 25, 2014

Frohe Weihnachten Part Eins (1)

Frohe Weihnachten- Merry Christmas!

This marks our first Christmas spent in Germany. Oh Christmas tree, Christmas music, Christmas lights, food, desserts, surprises, decorations, presents, sounds, smells, and I love thee! Christmas has always been my favorite holiday and absolute favorite time of year. One of the first things I said when I found out in May of this year that we'd be moving to Germany was, "We'll be there for Christmas?" Well, yeah, duh me...but that was where my mind went! My favorite holiday and time of year spent apart from family and friends and traditions and familiarity?

My face and initial reaction might have looked something like this...

You are probably curious as to what Christmas and the season are like in Germany. I can't speak with confidence as to what it's like in all cities of Germany, as traditions vary from area to area, but want to share some of the things we've experienced here in southern Rhine-Main area. You may be surprised to learn that many of the traditions, words, and images we use at Christmas-time in the United States are actually variations of German traditions. (Remember that the United States is a pretty "young" country.)

*Advent is BIG here- the Advent season, calendar, wreath, etc are all a big deal here. For most families, the Christmas season officially starts on the first day of the Advent Calendar. The "Adventskalendar" was started in Germany as a way to get families and children involved in activities leading up to Christmas day, and was used both religiously and secularly. Many good folks in the U.S. use an Advent Calendar type of item (even if they don't know it!) during the month of December as well. Just think about it- as a child, did you ever had a Santa face on the wall to which you glued a cotton ball each day of the month until Santa's beard was "full" on Christmas Eve? Or your parents hung a cloth Christmas calendar on the wall and you moved a candy cane or some other item from pocket to pocket each day? Mmmhmmm. Those are variations of the Adventskalendar. Children's chocolate Adventskalendars are very common here- each day of the month, the children find the cardboard flap with the correct date on it, push the flap back and find a piece of chocolate to eat and a picture to look at. In previous times, small wooden items and toys would be included in a wooden Adventskalendar.

 Christmas Market in Michelstadt, Germany, that Kurt attended with some colleagues. 

*Christmas Markets- One thing most people who know a lick about Germany have heard about are the famous "Weihnachtsmarkte", Christmas markets. Most towns and cities have them, though they vary in size. They start a few days after Thanksgiving and typically run until two days before Christmas. (This does vary of course.) The Christmas Markets are breathtakingly beautiful! They capture almost everything people love about Christmas in one big event! Music, trees, lights, families, nativity scenes, delicious smells and food and drink, gifts to buy and more, are everywhere. Wooden shops carry handmade items such as beeswax candles, wool scarves, gloves, hats, jellies and honey, lotions, jewelry, and more. Food stands are everywhere and serve up everything from Gluhwein (more on that later!) and bratwurst to Nutella crepes.

*Santa Claus, "Weihnachtsmann"(Christmas man) traditionally comes on the eve of December 5th. Children set out their boots or shoes and awaken on the 6th to find toys and treats in them if they've been good or rods and rocks if they've been naughty. That is Santa's big day and appearance, and he isn't given an enormous limelight as in the U.S. After the 6th, Weihnachtsmann fades into the background.

*Traditionally "Das Christkind" (baby Jesus) brings gifts on December 24th, Christmas Eve, which is more celebrated than the 25th. Children are sent to their rooms while the parents bring out presents from Christkind for them to come out and receive. Keep in mind that it is now more common for Santa Claus to come on Christmas Eve in certain areas of Germany- this just depends on the region you are in and the background and religious views and traditions of the family.

*Der Tannenbaum, the Christmas Tree, has German origins as well! (Dating to the early 1400's in Germany; the tradition was thought to be brought to the U.S. in the 18th century by German immigrants!) You will find cut Christmas trees at many Christmas Markets and stores. Artificial trees are almost unheard of here. Many families decorate the trees on either the first day of Advent or on Christmas Eve. Live candles are lit on the tree, wooden ornaments and crafted glass figures are hung, and a nativity scene is placed around the base.

Stay tuned for Frohe Weihnachten Part Zwei (2)!

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