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Hey, It All Looks Familiar!
I was lucky to come with my husband (then boyfriend) to celebrate Christmas in Germany twice in our time BC (before children). One thing that struck me most is how familiar German traditions seem in comparison to both Russian and American Christmas traditions. There are, of course, Christmas trees, Advent wreaths, lots of candlelight (in my husband’s family, they still use real beeswax candles on the tree), sweets of every possible kind, and Christmas carols. All this came to Western Christmas traditions from the Nordic countries, including Germany. One important difference, however, that in my husband’s family exchange of presents always happened on the evening of December 24th, not on the morning of 25th as is common in US. Why? Well, because Santa doesn’t come on Christmas Eve :)
Nikolaus DayYes, Santa who is such an important part of American Christmas tradition also comes from Germany. However Nikolaus (aka St. Nick) traditionally visited German homes not on December 25, but on Dec 6, known as Nikolaus Day. The way to celebrate Nikolaus Day is different between regions of Germany. My husband is from Northern Germany, and Bremen children simply put out their shoes outside their doors on the night of December 6. If they are good, they receive sweets and sometimes small toys. If they are naughty (yeah, right!), the shoe will have a tree branch instead. More Catholic parts of Germany (southern Germany) have special parades and visits by St Nikolaus who is wearing traditional red bishop clothes, rides on the horse, and gives out sweets. Sometimes he is accompanied by a creature called Krampus who is supposed to punish misbehaving kids and take them away in his sack. Luckily, my husband brought over only good sweet St Nicholas Day as a tradition for our family, and our daughter will be faithfully putting out her slippers on December 6 in the hopes of more chocolate and, perhaps, a small Lego gift.
This year we are doing a book advent countdown, and I got Smarty a new Christmas book specifically for December 6 – The Legend of St Nicholas by Dandi Daley Mackall that tells the story of the original Nicholas of Myrna and how he was helping his poorer friends and neighbors. The story connects back to modern time trying to shift the focus from getting gifts to giving. My plan is to follow up on the story by going shopping for a child in need on December 7 and discussing our charitable donations for this year.
German Christmas Crafts
Germany is known for their craftsmen, and one very traditional German Christmas decoration is a Christmas carousel with candleholders. I am linking to the one available on Amazon, but we have a less elaborate one which is still a lot of fun to have in the house. The warm air of lighted candles makes the carousel move, and it’s really magical to light it on December evenings and watch the shadow play on the ceiling. My husband grew up with a very crafty Mom and inherited her desire to create beautiful things. He is in charge of decorating our house for Christmas, and he designed and added this beautiful paper winter village to our decor over years.
We also add homemade Christmas decorations to our tree and our house every year. Last year we made clay ornaments for our tree:
German Christmas SweetsAgain, Christmas sweets differ between regions and between families, just as they do in the United States. In our family, we don’t make German sweets, we buy them in our local Trader Joe’s. Our two favorites are Stollen – a sweet bread made with dried fruit, marzipan, and covered in powdered sugar (messy, but tasty!), and Lebkuchen (recipe and photo from Lottie + Doof), which is a treat somewhat similar to gingerbread. The reason we don’t make these treats ourselves is that our 8 year old does not really eat them (she has to have chocolate in her cookies and cakes), and they are fairly involved in preparation. It’s easier to buy them and share them with our friends when they come over for traditional German “coffee and cake” afternoon treat.
Do you honor any holiday traditions from the countries of your heritage?
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