With the holiday’s right around the corner, it’s hard not to reminisce our childhood and holidays of yesteryear. In each culture, there are differing values and traditions that are celebrated in different ways.
During the 70’s, growing up ‘German’ in Europe was one of the most fascinating and magical decades. Having strong German roots, our family participated in many German Christmas traditions. One of those traditions was Advent. The Advent, or Christmas calendar, is a picture-box calendar decorated with wintry, Christmas scenes, biblical characters and ‘St. Nicolas.’ On the face of the calendar are 24 small doors; each containing a small chocolate – one opened each day for the holiday season. The December 24th door, which is the ‘Heiligabend’ (Christmas Eve), is usually the largest door on the calendar and most often contains a chocolate Nativity. As children, we relished in this fun, and tasty feature of the holiday season.
But Advent wasn’t simply comprised of the Holiday Calendar; we also partook in the Advent Wreath, or ‘Adventskranz’ which was beautifully displayed on tables throughout the house. Wreathes held four candles; the first candle being lit the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and another one each Sunday thereafter. Around the evergreen wreath of candles, our family would gather as each candle was meticulously lit. My mom would recite a simple, German passage each time she would light a candle:
Ein Kerzlein brent.
den Vier –
den steht der Christkind vor der tur.”
Which translates into: ‘Advent, Advent, a candle burns. First one, then two, then three, then four – then stands the Christ Child before the door.’
In Germany, it is the ‘Christkind’ (Christ Child) who brings gifts on Christmas Eve.
Another childhood pastime was St. Nikolaustag Nikolaustag (St. Nicholas Day) was a fun and lighthearted tradition whereby children everywhere anxiously awaited the arrival of December 6th when the Nikolaus, or Weinachtsmann (Santa Claus) came. Leading up to Nikolaustag, we children would have to behave very well, because St. Nikolaus could ‘see everything’ we did. And the night before December 6th, we would have to clean our winter boots meticulously to put outside our doors. Why the heck would we clean our boots and place them outside our doors? Well, I’ll tell you why – if we were good, and our boots were really clean, St. Nikolaus would stuff our boots with candies, little toys and chocolates. If we were bad, we would receive a bundle of switches or lumps of coal.
Unknown to popular American custom, the ‘Weinachtsmann’ was conceived by German-American Illustrator, Thomas Nast, who created the Christmas image of Santa in America – which ultimately set a precedent for the permanent, symbolic establishment of Santa Claus.
Traditionally, German Christmas is observed through ‘Heilige Drei Konige Tag,’ or Three Kings Day (also known as the Magi or the Wise Men). In some parts of Europe, such as Austria, Germany and Switzerland, the Letters C + M + B (Caspar, Melchor, and Balthazar – and, ‘Christus mansionem benedicat,’ meaning ‘Christ bless this house.’) are etched with chalk above doorways and home entrances on January 6th. Of course, this is the epitome of the 12 Days of Christmas
Finally, on the ‘Cristkind Abend (Christ Child Eve or Christmas Eve), aside from the Weinachts Baum (Christmas Tree custom started by Martin Luther), families receive ‘Bunte Teller,’ or colored plates filled with oranges, candies, Marzipan (comprised of almonds and sugar), Lebkuchen (gingerbread), Stollen (fruit bread) and an assortment of chocolates and other goods. Before any gifts are exchanged, Christmas Carols like Stille Nacht (Silent Night from Austrian composer Franz Gruber) are sung by the tree.
To this day, I am still amazed at the profound effects of Christmas’ past have had on me. As a child, the holiday was mystical and magical, as an adult, its beautiful memories are forever etched in my heart and soul.
Whatever holiday you celebrate during this time of giving, I’m wishing all a happy, memory-filled, holiday season…
A European Christmas
By CarolAnnB – Social Media Sorceress & More
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