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A German Christmas

Danzig Christmas Tree 2009

Christmas Tree in Danzig, Poland 2009

Most of my blog’s readers know this, I am German, but grew up in Germany the US and France. Still Christmas stayed a completely German affair. Not all parts of Germany are very Christmassy, nor are all Germans Christians. Still Christmas is important.

Today, I want to share some of my traditions for the 24th of December, or Heiligabend (Holy Evening).
The 24th of December starts with the opening of the last bag, window or door of the advent calendar. Because Christmas is almost here! Actually celebrations happen on the 24th rather than on the 25th. Today things are different for many Children in Germany, because most will be banned from the living room for most of the day.

In the living room, one can hear parents or grandparents (the number of adults allowed inside is often limited, at least in my family, to preserve the magic) rummaging around as they are transforming it into a magical place. Many kids will at one point in their life try to get a look through the keyhole or if the door is made out of glass through the makeshift curtains. Are the mountains of presents big? Where are my presents?
But quickly this nosiness will be taken over by a feeling of guilt, hoping that no one saw. I recall that one year I threw a look through the keyhole and all I could see were presents hidden underneath tea towels, I guess I was in the age of curiosity and my parents knew it.
The 24th must be the slowest day of the year for kids, and the quickest for adults. It drags on, and even though it is right after the winter solstice it seems as though night does not want to fall.
The Christmases with snow make the wait so much easier, as one can go sleighing, build a snowman or just have fun outside. It’s also the moment for those last minute presents and creation of window decorations.

With the day dragging on slowly or sprinting past (it’s a question of perspective) everyone is relieved when it is time to go to church. The 24th seems to be the day of the year for which churches exist… My family often goes to Church, but not always. Here in Paris it is not easy to find a Lutheran service, especially if you are looking for it to be held in German…

One year when celebrating with my grandfather, we went to a church outside of Jena that was lost within a field. There was no heating, there was no electricity, and the candles were the givers of light. It was a beautiful Christ Mass in a place were one could sense the whole magic and simplicity of Christmas.
After Church, everyone makes their way home. Kids’ eyes are gleaming with the anticipation of the arrival of the Christkind.

With my parents we normally settle down for some tea and Christstollen while waiting for the Christkind. So who is the Christkind? Well it is a little Christ child; just imagine a little child that goes from house to house every Christmas Eve and that says “it’s time!” For me it is the spirit of Christmas. I realised rather quickly that my mother would often leave to go to the toilet while my father was reading “Scrooge”, as we lovingly call A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (this is one of my favourite traditions, and last year I received my own copy in German with beautiful illustrations by Lisbeth Zwerger to perpetuate the tradition). While my mother was away a bell would suddenly ring from the living room. The bell belonging to the family but used only by the Christkind.
Once the bell has been rung, it is time to discover the Christmas tree. Can you imagine the magical moment? The children in the house, and some adults too will now see the tree fully decorated and lit in most cases by real candles. There will be a nativity scene and sometimes a Christmas Carousel.
Other decorations that aren’t attached to the tree might include a little man smoking a pipe (he really smokes), and the Bergmann and the Bergmann Engel, a miner and a miner’s angel each one holding two candles. These are figurines from East Germany, I am sure that that’s where the true North Pole is located, at least it’s were so many decorations and Christmas treats are produced.
All this, is magic, for everyone, at any age. This year, I’ll be witnessing my daughter discovering the tree. And I am sure that all of our hearts will be filled even more so by the magic of Christmas.
It is time to admire the tree, glance at the piles of presents, hug and kiss everyone and then it’s time to…
It’s time to sing a few songs, depending on the musicality of the family of course. Sometimes children will recite a Christmas poem and then it is finally time for the presents.

After the presents it’s time for phone calls to the family members not present. And then before the level of sugar in the blood has risen to too dangerous levels due to all the chocolates and cookies, it is time for dinner. The Christmas Eve dinner will often be simple, as the real feasts will take place on the 25th and 26th, the first two days of Christmas.

imageBut not all my Christmases were as described. While living in the US, there were no real candles on the tree, it was too thick, and my parents did not dare do it, so electric lights had to fill that gap. We had years in which we attached stockings to the chimney. Not every year we go to church. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. My second Christmas Eve being together with S was spent with his parents, it was the first time away from home. The Tannenbaum was replaced by a banana tree, which probably is closer to the type of tree that was around for Jesus’ birth.

So I hope that you will find peace and quiet over the next few days, that you will spend some precious moments with your loved ones, and that you will feel the magic of Christmas!


I  want to thank all of the 21 participants of the Advent Calendar, and invite you to read their contributions, discover their blogs, books and music and make new connections! Thank you!

© Solveig Werner 2015. All rights reserved.