Tag Archives: Christmas

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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Guten Rutsch!

We hope that all of our visitors to our blog have had a Merry Christmas! It’s hard to fathom that is almost 2012 and we wish everyone “einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr” (a German expression wishing a good start to the New Year).

I resolve to update the blog more frequently in 2012. I haven’t written anything lately because of our move back to Indiana in the US and because I’m not sure which direction I wish to take for our blog. I have decided to continue writing about our family and also to write about issues relating to the German language and culture, and also teaching.

Briefly, here is what we have been doing for the past four months. We arrived in the US in early September. Very shortly after our arrival, I was offered a temporary teaching position in a nearby high school. A German teacher there was on maternity leave, so it was a perfect opportunity for me. I finished teaching at the end of November and loved the students, the school district and of course was thrilled to be teaching about the German language and culture that I love so much. I know that many of the students benefited from hearing about my experiences living in Bavaria. It also made me realize just how much I personally have learned from our three years in Bavaria.

In early October, our household goods arrived at our home in Indiana. We still have tons of boxes to unpack. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to unpack at least one box every week.

In November, besides keeping busy with teaching, we celebrated Thanksgiving with my side of the family. That was wonderful. Thanksgiving really is my favorite holiday, one which I missed while living in Europe. It never felt quite the same in Germany, when it was essentially just us celebrating this unique holiday.

I also severely sprained my ankle in November. You see, Rosebud is now going to Samstagschule to keep up with her German. The Deutschschule is on Saturday mornings at the International School of Indiana, and the program is run through IUPUI (Indiana U.-Purdue U. at Indianapolis). On this one particular Saturday, I was asked to substitute teach Rosebud’s class. A few of the children got away from the group and as I was chasing after them, I fell and immediately realized I had probably sprained my ankle. My ankle is much better than it was, but it has made it a little hard for me to get around, especially at first.

Then, this December, we have been quite busy with the holidays. I must say, as much as I miss Christmas in Germany and the Christkindlmarkt (among other things), it has been so good to be home with family to celebrate. Even though we came home for Christmas each of the years we were living in Germany, it’s different when you are living in proximity to family and have less time constraints due to travel.

But I have fondly thought about my visits the the Christkindlmarkt in Bad Tölz, among others, and the beautiful snow in Bavaria that you get this time of year. It’s been unseasonably warm here in Indianapolis, and in that regard, it hasn’t quite felt like Christmas to me. I miss the delicious foods you can buy at this time of year in Germany, the simple and tasteful decorations and most significantly, the lesser amount of commercialism in Germany. I’ve really been struck by just how commercial the season has become here in the United States, and that bothers me.

Anyway, we are all doing well and looking forward to 2012. We plan to travel quite a bit. David and I will go to Palm Springs, California at the end of January; in March, I hope to go to Kansas with the children as our dear neighbors in Germany will be there visiting their family and then over the summer, I am eager to return to Bavaria to visit our friends there. Lately, I’ve been dreaming of Bavaria and feel at times like the language and culture are slipping away from me, so I feel like I must visit!

Best wishes to all of you and a very happy, blessed New Year in 2012.

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.

Enough Stollen to feed a small militia

More and more, you can find Stollen (also called Dresdner Christstollen or Weihnachtsstollen) in the United States. It’s a traditional German Christmas fruitcake, although it’s more like a lightly sweetened bread. Usually it contains rum-soaked raisins, chopped almonds and citrus peel. Believe it or not, the Aldi’s grocery store chain has excellent Stollen, imported from Germany. I think I have seen it at Trader Joe’s in the US as well. You may have also seen Italian Panettone in stores, which is similar to Stollen.

Originally called Strietzel, Stollen comes from the city of Dresden. The story goes that during Advent, Catholics fasted and were not permitted to consume any butter or milk. They attempted to make a cake using only oil, but it was tasteless. Prince Elector Ernst von Sachsen and his brother Albrecht wrote to the pope to ask if it would be permitted to use butter and milk for the special Strietzel cake. The pope allowed this, in a letter that has gone down in history as the “Butterbrief”, or Butter letter. A more detailed explanation in German is available at this Backland Bakery website. There is a lovely picture of the Stollen on this page, showing what it traditionally looks like, and they even say that you can order Stollen for delivery. Do you suppose they would ship Stollen to North America? It does keep extremely well…

When I was an exchange student in Köln, I discovered Stollen for the first time. It was a store-bought variety, and although very tasty, I was interested in finding a recipe so I could make it myself. At the end of my exchange year, I purchased a German cookbook for my mother which happened to have an authentic Dresdner Stollen recipe. I’ve made it a few times before, and although it takes a lot of work and time to make a Stollen, it is so worth it. Homemade Stollen is far better than the store-bought kind.

Dresdner Stollen – German Christmas Fruitcake
in metric

Ingredients (dough):
1 kg flour
100 g fresh yeast, in cubes [or 2 teaspoons active, dried yeast]
400 ml whole milk, lukewarm (around 80 degrees F)
75-100 g sugar (to taste)
one vanilla bean
2 eggs
grated peel of one lemon
1 teaspoon salt
400 g butter
200 g flour
350 g raisins (or mix of raisins and dried black currants)
100 g blanched, chopped almonds
50 g candied diced citron
100 g candied, diced orange peel
4 to 5 cl rum (that’s about two shots worth)

Ingredients (icing):
150 g butter
150 g powdered sugar

Soak the raisins, black currants, almonds, candied citron and orange peel in the rum. Set aside.

Get the largest mixing bowl you have.
That bowl you have there? It’s too small. Get a bigger one.

Then measure and sift the 1 kg of flour. Yes, you read that correctly, it’s a whole kilogram of flour, plus 200 more grams of flour are added later. Did I mention that my recipe makes enough to feed a small army?

Make a well in the center of the flour. In the meantime, dissolve the fresh yeast cubes in 400 ml of warm milk (best at around 80 degrees F/26.5 degrees C). Add a pinch of salt, stir, then pour the milk-yeast mixture into the well. Form into a very dry dough and let rise for about ten or 15 minutes.

Carefully cut the vanilla bean down the center with a sharp knife and then scrape the vanilla bean pulp into a small bowl. Add the sugar to the vanilla bean pulp. Then add the zested lemon peel, salt and the eggs. Beat together, then knead into the dough after it has finished its first 15 minute rise. Let rise for another 15 minutes. Then take the remaining 200 grams of flour and knead the butter into it. Then work it in to the yeast dough. Let rise for another 15 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (about 390 degrees F). Quickly work in the rum-soaked fruit and nuts into the Stollen so that they are evenly distributed. Be careful you don’t get too tipsy from the rummy fumes as you are kneading the fruit into the yeast dough. Why yes, this did in fact happen to me, why do you ask?

Form two rolls out of the dough, about 30 cm long. Then shape the rolls into Stollen loaves. Traditionally, the loaf is thicker in the center than on the sides. Place the loaves on a greased baking sheet (or on baking parchment paper) and let rise until the dough has doubled in size, about twenty minutes although it might be longer. Bake at 200° C for about an hour. Watch carefully, because your Stollen may need more or less time to bake. You may also need to rotate the baking sheet so that it browns evenly, depending on your oven. Test for doneness using a toothpick.

Coat with melted butter, and then using a sieve, shake the powdered sugar onto the loaves.

Let cool, slice and enjoy. I personally enjoy my Stollen for breakfast with a cup of strong German coffee.

*notes – although it’s not traditional, sometimes you can buy Stollen with marzipan in the middle. If you wanted to add marzipan, you could do so when you form the loaves.

Also, feel free to vary the dried fruits to your taste. Chopped, dried apricots and cherries, though not what was traditionally used, would be quite tasty.

You can take the scraped vanilla bean and add it to a jar with sugar to make vanilla sugar. Vanilla sugar is useful for baking, for your coffee or whenever you want to add a little extra flavor when you’re using regular sugar.