Christmas Pickle - Christmas in Germany
Christmas Pickle and other Christmas traditions in Germany
A Christmas tree placed in the living room glitters with colourful lights and creates a magical atmosphere in the house. The evening time makes this moment special. From time to time, the merry children glance impatiently at the decorated tree. In a few hours, presents will find their way underneath it, something the kids have been waiting for the entire year. When you look closely at the Christmas tree, you can see glossy, sometimes hand-painted baubles, colourful paper chains, angel hair and sweets in colourful wrappers. Let's have a closer look at the Christmas baubles. There is a red-nosed reindeer glittering in gold hanging at the top and a cheerful snowman with a frosted cap hanging right underneath it. To the right, a chubby Santa Claus carrying a bag of presents on his back, coming out of the chimney. But wait a minute, what is that weird Christmas bauble hiding in the back? Isn't it...a cucumber?
Some people say the whole story is made up. Do Germans actually hang a cucumber-shaped bauble called Weihnachtsgurke on their Christmas trees? And if they do, what for?
According to an American legend, John Lower, an American soldier born in Bavaria, was captured during the Civil War. One day, when he got very sick, he asked the guard for a pickled cucumber. The soldier recovered soon after eating it. It is said that, to commemorate that event, the Germans hang a cucumber on their Christmas tree – a symbol of health and success.
The first person to find a cucumber hanging on the Christmas tree on the 24th December – and it's not easy, because the cucumber, which is green, blends perfectly into the background – receives an extra gift. Finding the cucumber forebodes happiness and success in the upcoming year.
What else do we know about the symbolism of Christmas tree decorations in German homes? Nuts wrapped in aluminium foil are said to bring prosperity and strength, paper chains strengthen family ties, Christmas tree lights are the symbol of the light protecting us from evil and darkness, bells bring joy and good news, and the Christmas star crowning the top of the tree – sometimes replaced with a beautiful red flower – helps loved ones get home on time and shows them the way. Traditional decorations also include wooden dolls, hand-made Christmas baubles, which in the past, due to the high prices of dyes, could only be afforded by the richest citizens. Weihnachtsengel – the Christmas angel – is definitely the favourite and most frequently chosen bauble in Germany. It is estimated that no less than 50% of households put up Christmas cribs, and most children tend to write letters to Santa Claus.
Let's go back in time a little bit, before 24 December. To be more precise, four weeks before Christmas. The snowfall creates a festive atmosphere and creates a contrast to the warmth of the wood cracking in the fireplace. On this snowy Saturday morning, children will eat breakfast and rush in front of the house to make a snowman. In the evening, parents will present them with an Advent calendar which they will use to count down the days until 24 December. This tradition was initiated by the Lutherans in the 16th century. Each calendar window contains a chocolate in a different, festive shape. Sometimes we find the face of a smiling Santa Claus, another time we find a decorative bell or a decorated candle. In many homes, parents make their own calendars, sometimes with a little help from their children. In some regions, the calendar is replaced by a festive wreath decorated with four candles. Every Sunday, for four weeks, one more candle is lighted. The base of the wreath is usually made of dried flowers and spruce cones. Others, on the other hand, only put a wreath with candles on the Christmas table.
If you think that in Germany presents are brought by Santa Claus, you are mistaken. Although on the evening before 6 December children put polished shoes in front of their house, in which they will find small gifts left by Santa Claus in the morning, it will not be him who will visit the children in their homes on the evening of 24 December. Christkind, literally the "baby Jesus" with the appearance of a small angel, is going to check whether children were good and deserve a reward. But how do we know that such a gift was given to us? Children and adults sitting at the Christmas table listen carefully to the sound of a little bell called Christkindlglöckchen, used by Christkind when he leaves gifts under the Christmas tree. In Germany, competitions are often held in which girls dress up as this character.
In general, the dishes we find similar on the Christmas table in German homes are similar to those prepared in other European countries, and that is why we will focus on those delicacies which are specific to Germany. Lebkuchen, a gingerbread-type cake, full of honey, spices and nuts. Adults drink Glühwein, mulled wine or Feuerzangenbowle, which is mulled wine with rum. Kerststol (also known as Christstollen) literally means "Christmas loaf" – a traditional pastry from Dresden which can be found on almost every German table.
Christmas in Germany is not only about family gatherings, it is also about the events organised by the towns and cities. Weihnachtsmärkte – Christmas markets take place in all big cities and small towns. The smaller the market, the more regional products are sold there. It is estimated that several thousand of such markets open all over Germany on that day. Although Santa Claus is not the one who leaves gifts under the Christmas tree, it is also an incredibly busy day for him. We can find him in every supermarket, shopping mall, children's playroom. Isn't that real magic?
Santa Claus will also show up in the city in the company of Krampus, the devil, who teaches naughty children a lesson. Usually, men dressed as Krampus roam the streets. Their faces are hidden behind scary masks and their shoulders are decorated with gloomy robes.
Another holiday is Epiphany or Das Dreikönigsfest. Children go from house to house as carol singers. For this reason, they are often called Sternsinger, from the words der Stern – a star, and der Sänger – a singer. German television broadcasts the 1944 film entitled Die Feuerzangenbowle (The Punch Bowl) about the funny school adventures of three elderly men who share their memories. Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel, which can be translated to "Three Wishes for Cinderella”, is another essential Christmas film, with a plot referring to Andersen's fairy tale "Cinderella".