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Weihnachtzeit (The Christmas season)

Family, food, and celebration

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Family, food, and celebration mark the Christmas season and long-held traditions make a Christmas in Germany one to remember.

Family around Christmas Tree

There is hardly an adult who docs not become nostalgic when the topic turns to Christmas celebrations in their childhood. What springs to mind are those delicious smells of cookies, incense, fresh pine needles, beeswax candles, and the manifold aromas of a holiday meal. It is the image of trees hung with handmade decorations, the sound of Christmas carols and trumpets, and those unforgettable childhood presents.

Germans arc lucky: here, after a simple meal and an afternoon of perhaps decorating the Christmas tree, the early evening of December 24th already sees a heap of gift wrap in the living room, and the children can leisurely enjoy their toy trains, video games, books, or sleds before leaving for Midnight Mass, and long before their European counterparts' waiting time is over.

German parents can sleep in on Christmas Day, as the kids are happy with their toys, and breakfast can wait, because everyone is supplied with his Bunter Teller (an individual plate with typical Christmas cookies), an integral part of German traditions. The big holiday meal is only served in the afternoon at night, and a long family evening can be enjoyed, because - another plus - December 26th is a public holiday.

The gift giving on Jesus' birthday was Martin Luther's idea fix the children, back in 1535. Russia, which adheres to the Julian calendar, has Father Frost in his horse-drawn sleigh come as late as December 31, and for Russians and Orthodox Christians the world over, the waiting time to celebrate the birth of Christ extends until January 7th. Children in Italy and Spain have to wait for their presents until January 6th, as it is the Three Kings who bring them.

This dark time of the year in northern Europe is very much about waiting: waiting for a few hours of light or the scarce sunny times at the end of the year, waiting for a few free days after long working months, now often in vain due to global warming - for snow to brighten the gloomy streets: a white Christmas. To help visualize this time for children, the theologian and pedagogue Hinrich Wichern, founder of the orphanage Rauhes Haus in Hamburg, hung a large wreath with twenty-four candles in the hall, the big ones standing for each Advent Sunday, the others for each day until Christmas Eve. Thus in 1839 two customs were born at once: the Advent wreath and the Advent calendar, teaching the children that waiting and hope are part of life. In the course of time, only the Sunday candles remained, but the wreath was embellished with evergreen twigs and ribbons, and since the 1920s, the custom spread rapidly from Lutheran north German households to the Catholic regions as well. Today, the Advent wreath is a decorative table centerpiece in most households, but the custom to light only one more candle each Sunday is still observed, though accompanying prayers or the singing of carols in that special moment has become the exception.

Many tourist destinations promote their Christmas spirit and customs, the more well-known ones being in Bavaria, the Black Forest, the Harz, and the mining region of the Erzgebirge, (Ore Mountains) in Saxony near Bohemia, this one with especially rich traditions. However, to get into a festive mood with a mug of Glühwein (spiced red-wine), munching a waffle, or enjoying a hearty Bratwurst, one need not travel far.