In the popular imagination no country is more of a Christmas wonderland than Germany. Traditional Weihnachtsmarkt in Dresden and Munich, spicy Glühwein in the Alps, carol singing in Konstanz and midnight mass in Cologne: the seasonal tastes, sights and sounds are all here in abundance. But you don’t have to be in Germany to experience eine deutsche Weihnacht. Whether you live in Boston, Bognor or Bangkok you can now have a German Christmas by following these ten easy steps.
1. Open a Calendar: Germans start Christmas early. At the start of December every child in the land receives an Adventskalender with which he or she counts off the days until Christmas. The tradition is thought to have been started by Lutherans who chalked a line on the front door every day. Nowadays young devotees tend to prefer calendars with holy Kinder chocolates, divine Lego toys and even sacred Pokemon cards.
2. Find an Old Shoe: On evening of December 5th, Germans put an old shoe outside their door for benevolent Nikolaus – and his evil sidekick Knecht Ruprecht (who is armed with a willow switch – don’t ask why) – to fill with goodies. Nikolaus is distinct from the Weihnachtsmann – or Father Christmas – although the shoe has morphed into the stocking which Brits, Americans and Canadians hang above their fireplace on Christmas Eve.
3. Light a Candle: To make a German happy, give them a candle. At this time of year the nation goes potty over twinkling lights, and almost every household has an Adventkranz, a highly-flammable pine bough on which four red candles are mounted. Germany’s fire brigades do not rest on the month’s four Advent Sundays.
4. Stock up on Kitsch: After a single glass of spicy Glühwein, astute and discerning Germans lose their aesthetic sense as they stock up on flaxen-haired wooden angels and lucky chimneysweep figurines. To some the Weihnachtsmarkt are little more than themed funfairs but – despite the commercial overtones -- the Christmas markets do lift the seasonal spirit. Even those gaudy gingerbread hearts, inscribed with banal endearments like ‘Für mein Bärchen’, enable people who do not know how to express themselves to show their emotions. They are also useful for timid Romeos who wish to lay claim to a particular woman.
5. Get Baking: Real German women bake Christmas cookies. Timeless recipes are passed down from mother to daughter (or lesbian lover if in Berlin) for Pläztchen: cinnamon Zimtsternen, coconut macaroons, Kipferl and waistline-challenging Pfefferkuchen. Also popular is Stollen, a rich and heavy loaf-shaped cake which is particularly useful for wives who need to biff Glühwein-besozzled husbands for buying two ‘Für mein Bärchen’ hearts).
6. Buy a tree: While the womenfolk are in the kitchen, the traditional German male picks up an axe and -- in a manly fashion -- treks deep into the Teutonic ‘Urwald’ forest to cut down a tall and noble Weihnachtsbaum. Thankfully most modern men chose to slip into the Mercedes and drive to the local do-it-yourself shop to buy a stunted Polish shrub.
7. Cook a Carp: At my first German Christmas I was served customary poached carp with horseradish and sweet whipped cream. I’ve never recovered from the experience. Berliners seem to consider sausages and potato salad as appropriate fare. In more civilised parts of Germany the Weihnachtsgans – or Christmas goose -- is the favoured festive feast.
8. No Christmas Pudding: At that first German Christmas (in Bremen) I treated my hosts – they of the poached carp – to Harrods’ Christmas pudding, a British culinary masterpiece soaked in cognac and served with homemade brandy butter. My hosts tasted it, smiled politely and – when I was out of the room – threw it on the fire.
9. Santa Who? In Germany there is no Santa Claus. In Catholic families gifts are given by the Christkind, or the baby Jesus, aided by bands of angels from the Himmelswerkstatt, or Heavenly Workshop. Protestants ascribe the same task to the Weihnachtsmann who – depending on the depth of the family’s faith -- may be helped by angels, elves or passing Smurfs. In days gone by families took the opportunity to read aloud from the Bible and discuss their spiritual wellbeing. Now most of them simply watch TV.
10. Get Back to Work: Christmas is a special time, especially for families with children, and it brings the opportunity to be together with the people we love and to reflect on ones blessings. For all too soon the holiday will pass and the time will come to get back to the workshop (which for most us is neither at Heaven’s Gate or the North Pole).
Donnerstag, 23. Dezember 2010
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