Schöne Bescherung

Tannenbaum in stimmungsvoller Schneelandschaft

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!

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Sinterklaas . Dutch chocolate figure

If you live in Germany, you may have noticed that, on the evening of the 5th December, children put their boots – or sometimes just one boot – outside their front door. The next morning, these boots can mysteriously be found filled with gifts, such as a fir branch, nuts, tangerines, chocolate and one or two small presents. What is that strange custom, so shortly before Christmas?

The sixth of December is the day when Christians remember Saint Nicholas. He was the Bishop of Myra, who died on that date in the year 343 and was said to have performed various miracles and good deeds. One of the latter, legend has it, was giving presents to three virgins, hence the custom of filling boots with goodies (and telling children that Saint Nicholas did it). This, however, is but one of several assumptions regarding the origin of the tradition.

Der Nikolaus, as he is called in German, may even appear in person – for example in school or at sports clubs. He will come with a bag of goodies and question each child as to whether he or she was good in the past year. And, to make matters worse, St Nicholas may chose to drag along his sidekick Knecht Ruprecht, whose sole raison d’être is scaring the children by threatening to punish the naughty ones with a twig thrashing.

Saint Nicholas is often portrayed not as a bishop but as a hefty man with a white beard in a fluffy red coat. This depiction of Santa Claus, as he became known in the US, or Father Christmas in the UK, gained global ground in the 19th century and was cunningly used and thus made even more popular in soda giant Coca Cola’s advertising campaigns. So, historically, St Nicholas and Santa Claus are identical. In Germany, however, most people will say that der Nikolaus is different from der Weihnachtsmann, the latter bringing presents on 24th December. More on this is to follow nearer to Christmas.

Next week, we’ll remember another important date.

The Pommes Buddha says: Are you all booted up?

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