In the latest in our series on the theme of the meaning of Christmas to different culture, Marie Segger writes about the traditions of her native Germany.
Wandering through central London staring at the dazzlingly bright lights above my head, I can’t help but compare the British Christmas experience with all the traditions I’m used to from Germany. Germans aren’t good with Christmas lights and our KaDeWe (equivalent to Selfridges) isn’t known for carefully orchestrated displays of Santa partying with reindeers in a hot tub.
But we are great with a lot of other Christmassy things. On top of the list are, of course, Christmas markets.
It should be noted that putting “German” in front of your English “Christmas market” doesn’t make your market any more German (or better) or any less English. If I can give you a hint, it would be to make it your own.
The German Christmas market in Manchester is great, not only because there are quite a few authentically German stalls, but because they made a trail out of their market and gave an old tradition a new twist.
Second on the list – and I know this one must hurt as I know Britons take a lot of pride in their baking skills – are Christmas cookies.
In Germany they come in all shapes and sizes with chocolaty and colourful decorations. After the orphaned polar bear, Knut, was born in Berlin on December 5, cookie cutters in miniature polar bear shape became THE Christmas baking craze in 2006.
When Knut died in 2011 most of my family cried. We had a horrible time baking Christmas cookies as no one knew whether we could still refer to our polar bear cookie cutters as “Knut” – we had a small one and a big one by then. We eventually surrendered by keeping Knut in our hearts and as our cookie cutter. He rests next to angels, kings and stars.
Thirdly, Germans are great with Christmas carols. The classic “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht” always ends the Christmas mass at my local church and every year the first thing my father does, when we arrive at church 45 minutes early to get seats, is to learn that song by heart. The lights are turned off in the Church as the pastor leaves and the churchgoers sing.
So every year I learn “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht” whilst my clever twin sister Laura reads a book because her memory is much better than mine.My brother plays on his Gameboy even though he is 21, Christmas takes him back to his childhood every year.
When we come home from church the living room door is locked and everyone is preparing for our Christmas dinner. I wrap the presents I bought my loved ones or rather watch Laura as she wraps the presents for our loved ones as I’ve got two left hands – even though she is left-handed and I’m right-handed.
My brother keeps playing with his Gameboy and sits on the bottom of the stairs next to the living room door and waits. My parents assist the “Christkind” (Christ child) in the living room, light candles, put unwrapped presents in gift bags and set up the dinner table.
The Christkind is what you believe in when your parents insist that Santa Claus is an invention by Coca-Cola and the advertisement industry. The idea of the Christkind as the gift-bringer was spread by Martin Luther in the 16th century. In the 19th century the Catholic Church adopted the tradition.
Lately the Christkind has been facing fierce competition thanks to the emergence of Weihnachtsmann, i.e. Santa Claus. The Christkind isn’t a fat man that brings the presents and squeezes through the chimney, but instead, an angelic spirit. Many picture Jesus and the Christkind as one and the same.
I know that when I arrive in Germany from my studies in London this year, everything will be the same. My siblings and I will wait impatiently for the bell to signal that we can enter the living room and unwrap the presents. We will stand in front of the crib and the Christmas tree and awkwardly sing an obscure Christmas carol my father has chosen for this year.
Only my father will know the melody and the rest of us will get it horribly wrong and we will laugh a lot. And this is exactly what Christmas means to me: the joy of being with my loved ones.
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