Christmas Season is here and for the benefit those who are new to this page, I will once again relate my memories of how Christmas was celebrated in northern Germany. Most significantly, Christmas Day was not as important as Christmas Eve and therefore many German-Americans still follow the tradition of exchanging gifts on the 24th.
People in southern Germany had the Kristkindl, or Christkindl, that visits on the 24th…she is a pretty little angel with long blond curly hair and big white wings that she used to fly from heaven to earth. Of course, you never saw her, but everyone knew all about her. She was the one, who placed the presents under the tree.The Christkindl image depicted is from a 1917 Bavarian WWI poster showing her pulling a sleigh loaded with bundles and delivering one to a German soldier at the front lines.
What I am personally familiar with is the custom in northern Germany, where Christmas was also celebrated on the evening of December 24th, with a candlelit Christmas tree on full display. For us the Weihnachtsmann (literally the Christmas Man)… who was not St. Nikolaus… would come and greet us in person, or sometimes he would knock and only leave his bag because he had to rush along. Our Weihnachtsmann was different than the American Santa Claus…the Weihnachtsmann was dressed like an old man in a heavy robe and bore a striking resemblance to our own father. The image of two boys in 1952 show them unexpectedly meeting the Weihnachtsmann on a street in Lubeck, Germany.
The Weihnachtsmann arrived on Christmas Eve, not sneaking in via the chimney, but instead knocking loudly on the door. However, he never arrived until after our Christmas ceremony was finished…our sitting around the Christmas tree with its real candles lighting up the otherwise dark room, singing some songs, listening to the familiar tunes and recordings of church bells ringing, and listening to a reading from the Bible. Afterwards we would have a glass of red wine and wish each other Frohe Weihnachten.
Shortly after this we would hear a knock on the door and then we actually met the Weihnachtsmann. The youngest kids would be a little scared and intimidated as they performed their rehearsed songs or recited a poem. If the Weihnachtsmann was pleased, he would thank each person and leave his bag of presents. All kids knew that they had done something wrong in the past year and therefore they had to please the old man, and if they did not there would be no presents. Instead they would feel the “Rute”, which are a bunch of twigs tied together, on their backsides. It sounds tough, but thankfully the Rute was never used in my presence.
After the Weihnachtsmann left, we all relaxed and each of us in turn would reach into the bag, retrieve a present and call out the name on this gift. This procedure would go on for some time as each present was examined and commented on before the next gift was brought out.
Another tradition earlier in December was Sankt Nikolaus Day…the night before his day we left our shoes on the windowsill because St. Nikolaus might pass by our house. On the morning of December 6th we would run to the window to find some coins and candies in our shoes.
As December moved along in an agonizingly slow speed, kids would go to their December picture calendars every day to open the door for that day…until finally reaching the highly anticipated 24th. Hard to believe now, but we actually looked forward to seeing what little picture was under each door on the calendar.
And, not to be forgotten, we had an Adventskranz, a horizontal evergreen wreath held up slightly by 4 red ribbons attached to a center post. There were four candles, one of which would be lit on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas… our family would gather together and light the first candle and sit around the table thinking about our coming Christmas Holiday, listening to Christmas music and munching on Stollen, Niederegger marzipan, cookies, and nuts. It really got us into the Christmas spirit, especially as we repeated this tradition on the next 3 Sundays until all 4 candles were glowing and Christmas got closer and closer.