When days grow short and snowflakes fall (not!), many people like to snuggle up in cosy cotton and enjoy a cuppa. Others prefer to explore a different kind of Gemütlichkeit abroad. One of the big German winter tourism attractions are the Christmas markets, the most famous one being the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg. But who or what is Christkindle and how do Germans celebrate Christmas? Let’s take a peek …
Historically, in Germany, 6th December (St Nicholas Day) was the day when Christmas presents were given. This tradition changed in the 16th century when the Protestant movement, turning away from the cult of the saints, focused on the Christkind (literally ‘child of the Christians’, i.e. Jesus) as the bearer of good tidings, and henceforth the Bescherung (handing out of presents) took place on 24th December. (See Wikipedia.)
Yes, we know Jesus was born on 25th December. But if you’ve lived in Germany for a while, you’ll know that Germans like to reinfeiern, meaning to start celebrating the night before an actual event and work up to a midnight climax when ditties are due and gifts are given.
And, as many things in Germany, celebration is serious business. The Bescherung must not take place before 5pm. (My English husband cringes in agony and disbelief at the idea of having to wait the entire day to open presents, especially as a child.) And we dress festively. And we don’t wear silly hats or use other paraphernalia such as Christmas crackers.
Dear Germans, be aware that, in England and many other countries, Christmas presents are given on the morning of the 25th December and unwrapped bum-style, i.e. in pyjamas. Most of these presents, the children are told, are deposited through the chimney by Santa, or Father Christmas.
The little ones traditionally leave a glass of milk and a mince pie on the side for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph (the red-nosed reindeer), as these two appreciate a small break and some refreshments on their tiresome journey. Miraculously, the milk will be drunk and the mince pie and carrot half-eaten in the morning!
These days in Germany, the question of whether presents are brought by Christkind or Weihnachtsmann is largely a matter of personal (or intra-familial) preference. My sister and I waited impatiently outside the living room door until we heard ‘the bell.’ Then my mum would say, Das Christkind war da, and explain that this angel-like creature had just flown back out of the window.
Today, my husband and I find it easier to hop on the Weihnachtsmann bandwagon, as this is also the prevailing notion at nursery school and in our children’s friends’ families.
No matter how you celebrate, dear readers, have a very merry Christmas!
Next week, witness the ultimate end-of-year showdown: England vs. Germany!
The Pommes Buddha says: You’d better watch out! You’d better not cry!