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Weihnachtzeit (The Christmas season)

Background: Holiday Treats: Christmas, Traditions, and Trinkets

No discussion of German life would be complete without some mention of Germany's holiday traditions, in particular, those of the Christmas season. Many of our own, most-loved and customary Christmas traditions originated in Germany, and cities and towns all across Germany transform themselves into enchanted villages, and shine with brilliance during the Christmas season.

Although many traditional Christmas symbols have seemingly been hijacked through commercialization, the spirit of Christmas is alive and well in Germany. Our modem day Santa Claus is derived from the legend of Saint Nikolaus, which was popularized by the Germans and the Dutch (hence both the names, St. Nick and Santa Claus, which in German, is pronounced Sankt Niklaus). St. Nicholas was a prominent bishop who lived in the 7th century in what is modem-day Turkey. Having come from a wealthy family, St. Nikolaus had the means and the heart for gift-giving, and became known for his generosity. Through the centuries, his legend spread across Europe. and firmly took hold in Germany. Although Christmas Eve is the main gift giving day of the Christmas season today, Germans still celebrate St. Nikolaus day, each December 6th, which marks St. Nikolaus's death, by giving small gifts to children.

In the early days, when the Church was trying to spread its word, it grabbed hold of the pagan winter festivals· and made them their own by continuing to allow the people to revel in winter fun, but it now took on a significant religious meaning. That is why we today celebrate the birth of Christ in December. Similarly, the St. Nikolaus day was used by the Church to further its objectives. The Church thought it better that the Christchild be the one to bring gifts and hijacked the concept of gift-giving from St. Nikolaus day and moved it to the day of the birth of Christ. Here, once again, the Germans have bestowed upon us another Christmas tradition, that of Kris Kringle. Kris Kringle is derived from the German word for the Christchild, which is Christkind. For better or worse, the development of the modern version of Santa Claus and Christmas owes a debt of gratitude to the Germans.

The evergreen tree originated as a pagan symbol, but it was in Germany where the Christmas tradition took hold. Perhaps the biggest contribution to the Christmas tree tradition came from Martin Luther himself. legend has it that one clear night around Christmas time, Luther was walking through the forest, looked up through the boughs of evergreen trees and saw the t'winkling of the stars. The stars were so bright that they looked as if they were t'winkling on the branches of the evergreens themselves. He then came upon the idea of putting candles on the Christmas tree, to resemble the stars, and that is why today we string white lights around the Christmas tree.

These Strange German Ways and the Whys of the Ways by Susan Stern