Hey There! Can you believe that Christmas is just days away? It’s hard to believe it’s coming up so very soon. But then again I’ve had Christmas films and music playing on an eternal loop since the last week of November. I just can’t get enough of Home Alone, Elf, and the jolly tunes from Bing, Dino and Frankie. And of course with all of the festive music and films playing on I just have to make sure the home is decorated from top to bottom with holiday jingle and jangle. A wreath here, pinecones and red roses there. And the faux snow for the tiny Christmas village, but of course!
This year, however, we opted to forego buying and putting up the ‘ol Tannenbaum <gasp!> I know, for shame, for shame. Seriously, I am a Kevin McCallister all the way with the obsessive need to have a Christmas tree up throughout the entire month of December (and a bit more). But this year I told my husband that I would relieve him of his tree-carrying and -installing duties. I figured that since we’d be in Halle (Saale) visiting his parents for most of the Christmas holiday, and earlier than last year, there really wasn’t much point in trekking through the cold weather to pick out a tree that he would have to sling on his back and carry home for a good 15 to 20 minute walk. And possibly through the snow (although we unfortunately have yet to have a good snow this season).
Without a Tannenbaum this year in our home we are, but soon we will have a picture perfect Christmas tree in our presence…German style! Right in my in-laws’ home! Alright it may not be up throughout the entire wintery month, but a Tannenbaum will be up in soon enough in German style. So what is “German style?” Read on, ladies and gents!
For today’s festive Christmas-y post I thought I’d share a few thoughts and tidbits of info regarding the German Christmas tree (the Tannenbaum) and a few holiday celebration traditions. (And a few photos of Berlin Christmas trees from this year, too!)
Most of the details have been picked up and learned here and there over the years, some are noted from my favorite radio personality, Rick Steves (he’s got an awesome travel program that he airs weekly on the radio…and as a free podcast— check it out!). Some observations are just that. They’re observations. And while I’m missing plenty of historical info about this and that…about just how Saint Nick squeezes down a chimney, or even if he does this at all in Deutschland…this is all just a mish-mash of what I’ve been collecting since I’ve German-ified my life. Please enjoy and have a very Merry Christmas or Froehliche Weihnachten!
The Tannenbaum in Germany
The Tannenbaum—the German Christmas tree—really marks the commencement of the holiday season for me. Like I said, I’m a young Kevin from Home Alone and Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a giant bush brought in from snowy and frigid nature, and planted right in front of your living room window or wherever the top of the tree can fit without contorting in all sorts of odd ways so as to accommodate the angel or the star, and all without scratching or bursting a hole through the ceiling. This strange little habit that Americans (and Germans and millions of others around the globe) have come to love, is something that really shouts, “Merry Christmas!” for me. It’s a fantastic tradition, and whether a faux tree is installed or we go and hack it down ourselves and check for any hidden squirrels before lugging into the home, I simply love the tradition of the Tannenbaum.
In Germany, though, you don’t build, or purchase, and you definitely do not decorate your tree until the 24th of December. This is Christmas Eve for Americans, and usually not the date on which you get to unwrap all of our goodies and really celebrate. That’s what the 25th is for. Some families will do celebrations at one family’s home on the 24th, then at another’s on the 25th. Kind of a Christmas in two days, sort of thing. Drag it out. It’s great! Christmas Eve and day have both been pretty important “get down with your holiday selves” days for me. But Christmas day, the 25th, was always “official Christmas” in my home growing up.
Screeeeech. Turn directions. I’m in Germany, now, and that means the big celebration is done on the 24th—Christmas Eve. Heck, the 25th and 26th are official Christmas holidays in Germany, too. But Christmas Eve (the 24th) is when the tree goes up, the decorations and lights (or, traditionally, actual lit candles) cover Mr. Tannenbaum, and all of the gifts are brought out from their various hiding places and arranged under the fresh bush of pine. A few hours after all of this is done, and a hearty mid-day meal later, perhaps even after Abendbrot (dinner time in Germany), everyone will unwrap the gifts that were just placed under the tree. Christmas Eve is the big gift-giving and -unwrapping time. There’s no running down the stairs Christmas morning to see what St. Nick brought you. There’s no big fluffy bunny costumes begging to be worn on Christmas morning or a Red Ryder BB gun waiting to be shot.
In fact, St. Nick doesn’t come on the 24th, in Germany, nor does he come on the 25th! (And no, he’s not arriving on the 26th, either.) St. Nick actually comes to the homes of children and places goodies in their shoes (not socks nor stockings) on his birthday. Saint Nicholas’s birthday is the 6th of December so on St. Nicholaus Tag can the children see if their well-polished shoes are filled with candies, oranges, sugared nuts, and toys, or if they have been served a lump of coal. But the child’s shoes must be cleaned and placed in front of their door on the night of the 5th or St. Nick just might have to forego the toys and treats. And no one wants coal for Christmas, right?
So if St. Nick comes on the 6th of December, then who on earth brings all of the goodies on the night of the 24th? Mom and dad? Oh, hold your tongue! Well, alright, some can be from mom and dad; but traditionally in Germany, and very much of Europe, the baby Jesus child and the angels bring not only the gifts, but the tree and the decorations! In fact, the baby Jesus child and angels bring in the tree, decorate it, light it all up with real candles all lit on fire, and then stuff gifts under the tree, all to surprise the sweet children and encourage the spirit of giving.
Since the advent of indoor electrical lighting the whole candles-on-fire thing aren’t that popular any more, but in some German and European homes this is still well-practiced. And of course much logic (or as much as there can be with this odd habit) is flexed, as there will always be a bucket of water somewhere to the side of the tree, just in case the fire gets out of hand and Mr. Tannenbaum gets a little toasty!
And there’s one rule: no one can leave the tree alone. The kiddies can look on in wonderment at the beautifully decorated tree and flickering candle light and all of the treaties that have been left for them, but mom and dad best be near by, and there must always be an adult in the room. You can just imagine what a disaster Christmas would be if the Tannenbaum burst into flames!
The trick to making sure the kiddies know that the baby Jesus child and angels brought the tree and gifts is to go for that cheerful midday walk that Germans are so fond of taking. While the kids and a few adults are out playing in the snow midday, going for a sled ride, tossing around a few snowballs, or going for a nice “Spaziergang” in the neighborhood, the adults will pull all the mighty Christmas strings and make the magical wishes come true!
Of course, sometimes it’s a fun family tradition to put up the Christmas tree all together. That is still traditionally done on the 24th in Germany; and as the kids get older and start to realize that there’s something behind the whole midday walk appointment each December 24th, bringing in and decorating the Christmas tree becomes a real family affair.
As with all holidays there is much to cook and bake and eat and feast on throughout the 24th, 25th and 26th. There are family gatherings and feasts of duck and goose, various meats and vegetables, potato-this and -that, lots of hearty bread, delicious cookies and cakes, and of course various aperitifs, beer, and the tasty warm and spiced red wine, Gluehwein. You are never without food or drink during Christmas in Germany!
On the eve of the 24th often the neighborhoods will file into the churches for a special Christmas celebration and much song. And of course all of the shops are closed on the 25th and the 26th, and I believe are closed by noon (by law) on the 24th. Christmas in Germany…ahhh ever so delightful!
There are so many lovely facets to Christmas, and a German one at that, but these are just a few of the ones I know quite well and am particularly fond of. Alright, they’re all pretty much Tannenbaum-related. But come on, who doesn’t just love a Christmas tree? Real or fake. It doesn’t matter. (Although I much prefer a real one.)
We do not yet have the Tannenbaum up here at my in-laws, but it’s just the 21st, so I’ve got another few days to go. We actually let the baby Jesus child and angels off the hook this year and went out and fetched ourselves a tree on Monday. That was a fun adventure! Now the tree is hidden somewhere in the backyard, waiting to be brought in for decoration and enjoyment on the 24th. We actually considered putting it up today, but I got a bit carried away with this post and my husband’s off doing last-minute Christmas shopping (or what I should just come to accept is his “regular” Christmas shopping). Looks like my Kevin-ish side will have to be in hibernation until next year and I’ll say, “on with the German tradition!” I do so enjoy it. Christmas— in the U.S., in Germany, probably even if I had to Mele Kalikimaka my way through the holiday, is a season to truly enjoy. So wherever, however and whenever you put up your Tannenbaum, enjoy! And maybe even hum a little “Oh Tannenbaum, oh Tannenbaum….” It’ll do the soul some good. And the tree may even like it!
P.S.- Throughout this month, in the spirit of giving back, 20% of each ebook sale of Bumped to Berlin will be donated to the Helen Keller Services for the Blind organization. And for each review or rating (on Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com or Goodreads.com) 100% of an ebook’s sales will be donated. You can read all about it in this post HERE.
Happy Reading! And Happy Holidays!