Christmas is one of the most beautiful times of year in Germany. Germans have a plethora of traditions and customs. Last year at Christmas time we were still attending our German class, which I miss terribly, and we learned about many German traditions. The German Christmas market has to top the list of beautiful places to be in December. The city we attended school in had a large Christmas market and one class we were sent out on a scavenger hunt through it. We had to open envelopes at each stop and complete a task ranging from learning about the local beer, the founder of the city, asking where the ferris wheel came from, to a stand that sold brushes. This stand/experience still provides Tony and I so much joy. The wooden stand is covered in Nobel Fir branches and lights and sells brushes. Not just one or two but many brushes made of different animals furs for cleaning vegetables, shoes, floors, for brushing your hair, and all sorts of needs. In the scavenger hunt we had to ask him where the brushes came from and what they were made of. Then part of the follow up was to write a letter to a family member about the experience. We wrote to the two German speakers who knew, my mom and Oma. So all this to say, I wrote my draft and read it aloud to our teacher. Unfortunately as it goes with new languages, there was a slight mix up in words and I wrote extensively about the “breast stand.” “We spoke with a breast handler about the different types of breasts that they sell. I find the breasts very practical and they look very pretty.” The letter ended with the three of us dying laughing at my word mix up. Luckily the mistake was caught in the rough draft and promptly corrected! This will always be a fond memory for me. The crazy adventure of learning a new language and the joy of the Christmas market.
So a couple of my favorite Christmas things: The Christmas markets at night, they are always beautifully lit up with lights, large Christmas trees, and nativities. These aren’t markets in the sense of malls or the place to buy your Christmas gifts. Rather there are a bunch of beautiful wooden stands set up that sell yummy food, Christmas trinkets, decorations, and candies.
photo credit: Josiah Leonard
One of those yummy foods is Schmalz Kuchen, these little fried dough poppers that are served fresh and warm, covered in powdered sugar, eaten with a wooden stick. Hot chocolate can also be bought for a couple euros and is served in a Christmas mugs that is personal to the city. Tony and I have collected cups from each of the markets we have been to.
Christmas pyramids. Tony and I have purchased two of these at our local second hand store. The heat from the candles moves the pyramid around and the inside has little figures acting out the nativity or wearing Christmas clothes.
Not the best picture but the Christmas Pyramid is on the very top left.
Advent wreaths. These are popular in America too but I still love the wreath and candles that are lit every Sunday during advent. The state run churches have large wreaths that hang from the ceiling with beautiful big candles. And since I decorated MGE, our church, for Christmas, we took a modern approach. Many people in Germany have advent wreaths in their homes too and take part every week in lighting. Germany also knows which Sunday the first, second, third, and fourth advents are. Advertisements will say a sale begins on the second advent day. This is unheard of in my American experience.
Gift Advent calendars. This is more than a cheap chocolate calendar bought at the store that is opened everyday. Germans are very creative and there are hundreds of bags, baskets, stands and wrapping forms to create and wrap 24 little gifts for your loved ones. Some families take turns opening a gift each day, some give gifts to their spouse or kids each day. The local newspaper even encouraged people throughout December to send in their photos of their calendars. Last year Tony and I took turns giving each other a gift each day in December, but this year, with the baby coming and so much going on we opened a piece of a nativity set each day, tried to read from Tim Kellers book A Year in the Psalms, and put up a Christmas card on our wooden Christmas tree each day.
This year for Christmas we gifted each other an experience. We chose a theater production of A Christmas Carol done by an American theater group. It was modern, creative, and funny. Experiences together are the best gift, especially in this season of life when the need to collect material things is at an all time low.
Christmas Eve is the main day. Since Santa Claus doesn’t seem to visit Germany, gifts don’t need to wait to be opened on Christmas Day. Instead Christmas Eve is when many people open gifts. This year we had a wonderful Christmas Eve. We started at 4pm with a Christmas Eve service. This is my favorite church service in the year. Tony led us in Christmas carols, Matthias preached on Emmanuel, God with us, the kids performed the birth of Jesus as a musical, and we handed out little gift bags to kids after the service. We placed some candles around the church as well.
After the service we went with Julie to Matthias and Christin’s. We started out sharing some Kinderpunch, which is a cherry, grape, apple cider. For dinner we enjoyed duck, red cabbage, dumplings, gravy, bread, and meatballs. For dessert we enjoyed meringue cookies, chocolate cake, and sugar cookies.
After dinner we had our Secret Santa gift exchange. Everyone took turns rolling the dice, if you roll a 6 you can open your gift. Tony was the last one 🙂 In true nature to the type of “gamers” we are we played Yahtzee. It was an exciting game and after Christin got a Yahtzee she had the game in the bag. However 🙂 after a counting up of the points, Matthias won by a tiny 1 point. We died. It was hilarious. I love our friends.
Christmas Day could not have been more relaxing. Tony preached at church and then we headed home to celebrate together. We watched some Christmas movies, ate homemade hamburgers, read, and listened to Christmas music.
I woke up like this… except it was probably 3pm 😉
Christmas is a wonderful time of year but it isn’t so wonderful because of all the traditions, things, or experiences. It is wonderful because of the birth of the Savior, the Rescuer, Jesus. We celebrate his birth, Emmanuel, God is with us. The time when Jesus, God, came humbly as a baby into our world, to dwell among us. This Christmas I had the privilege of reading through Luke and remembering the wondrous life that Jesus lived. I read through parts of Isaiah that foretell of the coming of Jesus, and I sang Christmas songs with my church and even at home with Tony, that declare the coming of the Lord, Jesus.
I found this photo in an article I was reading on Christmas Day. A dejected Eve is being consoled by a pregnant Mary. There is so much going on in this drawing, Eve clutching a piece of fruit, Mary’s look of love as she strokes Eve’s face, the serpent tangled around Eve’s leg while his head is being crushed by Mary’s foot. It is never too late or too early to reflect on the power and restoration that the birth of Jesus brings. Two women from opposite ends of history, and their stories intertwine. Jesus comes to make all things new, to make all things right.
“That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal sufferring, “No future bliss can make up for it” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” C.S. Lewis
My mother, my daughter, life-giving, Eve,
Do not be ashamed, do not grieve.
The former things have passed away,
Our God has brought us to a New Day.
See, I am with Child,
Through whom all will be reconciled.
O Eve! My sister, my friend,
We will rejoice together
Life without end.
Virgin Mary and Eve
Crayon & pencil drawing by Sr. Grace Remington, OCSO, Poem by Sister Columba Guare
© 2005, Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey.