A blog award regularly makes the rounds in my sphere of the interwebs. It’s called the “Liebster Award”, and it is basically a way to meet the blogger behind the facade of the blog. It consists of a catalogue of questions that a nominated blogger has to answer in a blog post – and then nominate further bloggers to answer a new catalogue of questions posed by the blogger herself. Suzy of Silverbluelining has rung in the season with a number of questions about Christmas, and I have decided to take up the challenge and make it topical.
After all, Mr A is in need of some cultural coaching, now that he has professed his love for Germany. Ok, in a different context, but nonetheless, as offspring from the Fazerland, let me tell you that *this* is the most wonderful time of year to be in Germany.
Christmas is big in Teutonic lands, there are many, many customs surrounding Christmas, and even though most Germans are fairly secular, they enjoy the traditions and rituals. Not least because they centre around food, family and frink, eh, drink. So Mr A is lucky to be in Berlin right now, which has plenty of Christmas markets and lots of seasonal atmosphere. I hope Mr A will get an insight into the domestic traditions, too – and they are the focus of Suzy’s questions.
And since I am a fairly average German and ever more so because I live in exile, this is quite characteristic of Djerman Christmas. So, let’s jump in.
1. Do you have an Advent wreath? Classical? Round? Or something new every year? Creatively hand-made or creatively bought on your own?
I usually do. I make it myself because wreaths, although available in Ireland, are quite expensive here. They probably look quite traditional – just the green wreath and the candles. I like it as plain as possible. But they look slightly different every year.
For the readers who are not familiar with the advent wreath: The advent wreath is traditionally a Lutheran (protestant) Christmas tradition. The four candles symbolise the four weeks before Christmas. The first candle is lit on the first of advent, on the second of advent there are two candles burning, on the third three and so on. Read more about the origins here.
2. Do you have an Advent calendar? With sweets? Hand crafted or bought? With a special motif?
Sadly, I do not get an advent calendar anymore. My mother used to make a different one for me, every year, filled with little presents, until I was about 25.
The privileges of being an only child… I am keeping up the tradition and am making one for my children now. I used to make a different design every year, but then, a few years ago, I made a couple of Christmas stockings for them that held a present for every day. The kids loved them and have insisted on using them as an advent calendar ever since – maybe because the stockings are a nod to anglo Christmas traditions?
3. Which is your most favourite Christmas dinner? A traditional one? Any recipe for us……?
Hm, tricky question. You see, for me, Christmas is Christmas Eve – the day when presents are exchanged in Germany. Traditionally, food is actually quite simple on Christmas Eve, though – the likes of frankfurters and potato salad. The big feast is reserved for the *actual* Christmas Day, the 25th. (In my family, we eat poultry on Christmas Day, either roast turkey or chicken.) But on Christmas Eve, we have a simple hot meal for lunch (as is usual in Germany), consisting of fried Silesian sausages, sauerkraut and potatoes. This is a tradition that came with my paternal, Silesian grandparents, but my mother happily kept it up. I do, too – even in Ireland…
4. A typical ritual at Christmas? Something special for your country and/or your family?
Two answers: For myself, my favourite ritual is putting up the Christmas tree and decorating it on the morning of Christmas Eve.
Yup. That late. That’s how we roll in Germany. But as an ex-pat with an extended Irish family, I have taken on some of their rituals, too. I particularly like my in-law-family’s traditional Christmas walk on St. Stephen’s Day (26th) when the whole family (12 adults and 13 children at this point) goes for a walk to “the Holly tree” in a valley in Co. Wicklow.
5. Your most favourite christmas movie/series…
As a child, I used to love the annual children’s TV series that broadcaster ZDF put on. Timm Thaler was my favourite, based on the children’s book by one of my favourite authors, James Krüss. It is the story of a young boy who sells his smile to an evil baron in exchange for winning any bet. He soon regrets the deal and goes on a journey to get his laugh back. A few years ago I bought the DVD, and I look forward to putting this on again, this year.
The child actor Tommi Ohrner was also my first ever fan crush, at the tender age of 10. I guess you could say I was doomed…
6. What kind of music do you prefer on Christmas Eve?
Personally, I like to keep it classy. The Christmas Oratorio by Bach all the way. “Jauchzet, frohlocket! *tam tam ta ta ta taa taa taa* Lobpreiset die Tage! Jauchzet, frohlocket!!!”
Mind you, for a joke, I nowadays put on Godewind’s album Wiehnacht achtern diek. My dad bought that record in 1983, and it was put on every fckin’ year… I used to cringe and hate it – typical early 80s peacenik guitar tinkling *retching noises*. I won’t spare you – here’s a clip. It’s interesting, though, because it is sung in plattdeutsch, the Northern German dialect that bears resemblance to both Dutch and English. (I can speak it, too.)
7. Are you celebrating with your whole family? Alone ? With friends?
Christmas has always been *the* family holiday for me. I grew up as an only child, and Christmas Eve was celebrated with my parents and my maternal grandparents, with everything centreing around me me me.
I am telling you, it was a shock when my first child entered the scenario and I was not the centre of attention anymore… LOL. So Christmas was always reserved for the nuclear family. Until a few years ago. Here is a Christmas sob story, make a cup of tea, sit back, and have a tissue ready:
And it came to pass that it was the afternoon of Christmas Eve. It was a cold winter’s day, and snow had been falling all day – a highly unusual occurrence in Ireland at the best of times. All roads were covered in snow, and there was no sign of the weather turning. Snug with a cup of tea and a Christmas biscuit (see 9. below), Guylty and family were pitying the travellers stranded on their way to their Christmas celebrations – when the telephone rang. An ex-pat friend was on the phone, she and her family were stuck at Dublin airport, flights cancelled and no way to get home to Germany for Christmas or back to their house in a town two hours away from Dublin, such was the weather. Could they come and stay with us? Guylty swallowed. Christmas Eve with outsiders under the tree? Unthinkable. I hesitated
the shame!!! and stalled a decision by pretending I had to confer with Mister Guylty over this inconceivable suggestion. Once enlightened about the situation, the best husband of all choked with indignation in my general direction. What was I thinking? These were my friends, this was Christmas, surely the only and the right thing to do, was to invite them to celebrate with us!!! I sheepishly agreed and rang my friends back to invite her, husband and two kids to celebrate with us. Literally a minute later another German ex-pat friend rang, herself a single mother of a daughter. What were our plans for Christmas Eve, she asked delicately. Guylty did not even beat around the bush anymore but immediately invited her over, too. – Later that evening we stretched the traditional bratwurst and sauerkraut to feed 10, stuffed ourselves on biscuits, got merry on Glühwein, the children played, the adults chatted. With five adults and five children between six and twelve, we had the *best* Christmas Eve ever. Next time, Guylty will not hesitate again.
8. Are you going to have a Christmas tree? With any decoration – an individual work of art? Discreet or everything the Christmas shop has offered?
I have a Christmas tree every second year – because we alternate the annual Christmas celebration between my parents’ (now mother’s) home in Germany and our home in Ireland. The decor is slightly different every year, and mostly traditional, comprising the now almost 100 year old silver Christmas baubles inherited from my grandmother and the collection of Hutschenreuther crystal baubles. This year I must do without a Christmas tree – but I am displaying my Christmas treasures elsewhere.
9. Your favorite Christmas cookie?
Tough one. Undecided between classic Vanillekipferl and Spitzbuben. But there is one thing I have a decided opinion on: Christmas biscuits have to be home-baked. Everything else is not good enough. Tempted to send Mr A a small tin of home-baked Christmas biscuits, alas they would arrive as crumbs, so I won’t… But if you would like to try baking them, here are the recipes:
Combine 200g butter, 100g ground hazelnuts or almonds, 60g sugar and 280g flour. Leave to rest in the fridge for at least 2 hrs. Make half-moon shapes of the dough and bake at 195°C for about 12 min. Let biscuits cool on rack. Mix icing sugar with vanilla sugar in a soup plate. Carefully roll the kipferl and cover in vanilla icing sugar mix.
Combine 125g butter, 100g sugar, 125 flour, 125g ground hazelnuts or almonds, 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar, 1/2 a short teaspoon of baking powder. Leave to rest in the fridge for at least 2 hrs. Take generous thumb-size pieces of dough, roll into balls, push your thumb into middle to make a “nest”. Fill the hollow with a mixture of whisked egg-yoke and cream. Bake at 195°C for 15 mins.
There, that’s German Christmas in an ex-pat setting. Let me end by saying that I *love* Christmas, despite being a hardened agnostic. It’s the most wonderful time of year, an occasion to stay in, having tea and biscuits in candle-light, displaying all the colourful knickknacks that a modern minimalist home usually avoids. And most of all it is a family-and-friends season during which you can re-connect with everyone, lean back, relax and alternatingly put your feet or knees up.
What’s the season like where you are? Tell me – or Suzy – in the comments or on your blog. I love reading about the season in other parts of the world. After all, the dark season has its traditions, no matter whether we are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu…