Tag Archives: Christmas tree

The newest photographer in the family

For Christmas, Rosebud got a new digital camera. It’s specifically for little kids because they can drop it and it won’t break. The camera also has a swiveling view finder so that they can take self portraits. I love the pictures she’s been taking so far. Take a look at a few of her shots:

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Die Weihnachtsgurke: the Christmas Pickle

The Christmas Pickle Ornament: is it a German custom or a German-American Christmas custom? You decide!

Yesterday I posted about some German Christmas traditions; a college friend of mine, who studied German with me at Lawrence University, reminded me about the Christmas Pickle (die Weihnachtsgurke) ornament. Maybe you’ve heard about the Christmas pickle. In the United States, it’s said that Germans brought the custom of hanging a glass pickle ornament in one’s Christmas tree. The child who finds the pickle in the tree gets an extra gift. Since the pickle ornament is green, it is supposed to be hard to find in the tree.

I had never heard of this German custom until I started teaching German, when some of my students were asking me about it. It sounded interesting to me, so I started to look for a Christmas pickle ornament to hang on my own tree. Sure enough, the ornament I found had a little note inside explaining the tradition.

I’ve since asked Germans I know in Hamburg, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Baden-Württemberg and Bayern about the Christmas pickle ornament. They all look at me like, “what are you talking about?” Nobody seems to have ever heard of it, so I’m wondering if this is actually a German-American custom. This web page seems to think that the Christmas pickle ornament in a myth.

On the other hand, here is an amusing blog post in German about a German who first encounters the Christmas pickle ornament in Munich. He even writes that his parents denied him of this apparent custom (oh no!). The post is in German and well-worth reading if you can read German. The blogger is equally skeptisch of this custom, though he wryly suggests that maybe, just maybe, it comes from the Spreewald, in the Herz region which is supposed to be known for its pickle industry.

Whether or not this is really a German or German-American custom, the pickle ornament is an unusual decoration for your tree and it has a good story to go with it. In the United States, you can buy a very nice Christmas pickle ornament at Crate and Barrel if you think you’d like one for your tree. It seems that the custom is catching on here in Germany, too. In Germany, you can buy a pickle ornament from Gartenschätze, which mentions this as a very regional German custom though it doesn’t say from where, or from Weihnachtsgurken. On this second website, there’s a cute drawing that German students might especially like (“Gurk, gurk”).

Christmas in Germany

I was asked to submit an article about Christmas traditions in Germany to Gen X Moms Blog. I wanted to share what I wrote here.

Christmas in Germany
Living on the edge of the Bavarian Alps as we do, one of my favorite times of year here is the Christmas season. Between the holiday decorations, Christmas markets and the impressive backdrop of snow-covered Alps, this time of year is magical.

Christkindlmarkt, Marientplatz, München

Christkindlmarkt, Marientplatz, München

Saint Nicholas

We call him Santa Claus, but in Germany he’s called Sankt Nikolaus, or Saint Nicholas. In Germany, Saint Nicholas brings gifts to children on December 6th, his feast day.

This year, I thought Rosebud was old enough to learn about Saint Nicholas. On the evening of December 5th, Rosebud and I sat at our kitchen table, where I sang her a song about Saint Nicholas called “Lasst uns froh und munter sein” (or “Let us be happy and cheerful”). The song is about how children put out a plate on Saint Nicholas Eve, and then while the children sleep, Nicholas puts treats in the plate for the children to find the next morning. We sang the song several times (“Mommy, sing it again?”), and then I helped Rosebud put a plate on our kitchen table for Saint Nicholas. The next morning, her eyes were wide with amazement when she discovered her plate was full, with a few sweets and many clementines.

Originally, children in Germany would put out a boot or a stocking, just like the tradition of having Christmas stockings for Santa to fill. Usually Saint Nicholas leaves gifts of oranges or clementines, nuts, chocolates, Lebkuchen (similar to gingerbread) and maybe some other small gifts. A friend of mine in the Netherlands told me that Saint Nicholas is very important there; he’s called Sinter Klaas and children get most of their gifts on Saint Nicholas day.

At some of the Christmas markets in Germany, Saint Nicholas appears in costume. He asks the children if they have been good and usually gives them a clementine or apple. Unlike our jolly Saint Nick in North America, Saint Nicholas is slender rather than plump, and dressed like a bishop in red and gold.

O Tannenbaum – Oh Christmas Tree

Christkindlmarkt, Salzburg, Austria

Christkindlmarkt, Salzburg, Austria

The custom of bringing an evergreen into your home and decorating it is an old one; the tree symbolized the return of spring. Traditionally, Germans decorate their tree with candles and bows; also common are sweets, glass balls, straw stars and wooden ornaments and figures. Most people have lights in the shape of candles for their tree, but some families still put actual candles on their tree. When I was an exchange student in Köln (Cologne), my family had real candles for their tree. We lit the candles and admired the tree for about twenty minutes, but then extinguished the candles and plugged in the string of lights for the rest of the time. The candle-lit tree was beautiful, though. I’m not brave enough to do it myself, but the candle-lit tree is something I’ll always remember.

Some families put up their tree on Christmas Eve and then take it down on January 6th, which is called Three Kings day. In the ballet The Nutcracker, the parents of Clara put up their Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. The children don’t get to see the tree until the parents finish decorating it, which is another tradition that some families have.

Adventskranz – Advent Wreath

Most families have an advent wreath in their home, even if they aren’t necessarily religious. It’s thought that the Advent wreath originated before Christianity spread throughout this part Europe. In the Germanic and Scandinavian countries, a large wheel was decorated with four candles. The four candles represented the four seasons, and the wheel represented the earth. The candles were lit in the hopes that the wheel would turn back toward the sun.

Today, the candles are lit for each Advent Sunday and instead of a wheel, a circle is usually fashioned out of pine boughs. Last year, one of the students I tutor in English was telling me how he and his friend always collect pine boughs to make into wreaths to sell at their local Christmas Market. The hand-made wreaths I’ve seen here are decorated with ribbons, pinecones, dried oranges, whole spices and other seasonal items. The wreaths make for a beautiful table decoration and help to bring a little light into one’s home during the dark December days.

Christkindlmarkt/Weihnachtsmarkt – Christmas Markets

The Christmas markets, which are outdoor street markets, are probably my favorite tradition here. Especially in southern Germany where we live, the markets are called the “Christkindlmarkt” but in other parts of Germany the markets are called “Weihnachtsmarkt”. When the festive Christmas markets open on the first weekend of Advent, I feel like finally it is time to get ready for the holidays.

Christmas market stall, Oberammergau

Christmas market stall, Oberammergau

Carousel at the Christkindlmarkt, Oberammergau

Carousel at the Christkindlmarkt, Oberammergau

The markets are generally held in town squares or pedestrian zones, and wooden stalls are set up to display handmade crafts, foods, ornaments, jewelry and other items. It wouldn’t be a Christmas market without sausages or bratwurst, gebrannte Mandeln (candied almonds) and Glühwein (mulled hot wine) or Kinderpunsch (spiced warm fruit punch).

Nuts and sweets, Christmas market, Bad Heilbrunn

Nuts and sweets, Christmas market, Bad Heilbrunn

Rosebud eats kettlecorn, Oberammergau

Rosebud eats kettlecorn, Oberammergau

Rosebud holds out her Kinderpunsch mug

Rosebud holds out her Kinderpunsch mug

Larger cities like Munich have multiple Christmas markets, and even special themed ones. This year, with baby Superdude in the stroller and Rosebud who likes to walk, we have gone to the smaller markets in our region. Rosebud in particular has loved going to the Christmas markets. She gets excited over the lights and decorations, the outdoor music and even all the people.

Listening to the band playing Christmas music, Oberammergau

Listening to the band playing Christmas music, Oberammergau

Even though the weather can be very cold and snowy, somehow we don’t mind when we are walking around the Christmas markets. A mug of Glühwein or Kinderpunsch helps keep the cold away. My children are lucky to experience the Christmas traditions here. As they grow older, we will all have fond memories of celebrating Christmas in Germany.