The Christmas Holiday Season In Germany
As the season cools off and the leaves fall (mostly in my yard, it seems), I am already looking forward to Christmas time in Germany. Christmas here is really something special, certainly more than I ever experienced anywhere else I have lived. It’s more than just gifts under the tree and a big Christmas dinner. Germans are really into Christmas and one of the things I think makes Christmas really special in Germany are the traditional Christmas markets and they are in just about every town. Hamburg has at least four just in the downtown area alone. And they are full of people, smells of food and hot drink, music, laughter and all sorts of other things.
Every Christmas the markets set up about four weeks before the big day and one can find lots of speciality items such as Stollen (a cake only available during the Christmas holidays and the best comes from Dresden in the former eastern part of Germany), hand-made wooden toys and decorations, and bread baked right in the marketplace for example. There is even a blacksmith demonstrating how implements were made a hundred years ago. More mundane items are various candies, sugared almonds, Berliners (jelly donuts), scarves, toys, mittens, hats, gosh, there is so much I get confused just thinking about it all. Then come the really good items such as food,…one of my favorite subjects. The season brings a hot wine drink called Glühwein (a combination of red wine, sugar, cloves, cinnamon and other herbs and spices AND if desired, a liberal shot of rum), another speciality is Kartoffelpuffer, thin (if made properly) potato pancakes made of grated potatoes and onions, fried in shallow oil and served piping hot with apple sauce. Kartoffelpuffer are one of my all time favorites and best made by my wife. Just Wonderful!!!! And of course, there is the inevitable selection of Würsten (sausages), crepes of all kinds, and naturally, beer and wine. There are normally some small rides for the younger children and music piped around the market. At one market in Hamburg is a small model train that runs overhead all around the market place. Somehow the atmosphere is really special and I very much enjoy going once or twice during the holidays.
Then, by 3 PM on Christmas Eve, the market is closed, just in time for the people to be home for Saint Nikolas to bring the gifts to the children at sundown. The parents somehow isolate the children from the main room of the house, the tinkling of a bell and voila, the gifts are under the tree. Dinner that evening is usually fish (don’t know why) and then everyone enjoys the evening drinking wine and watching the children hard at play. Christmas day is for relaxing and more play for the kids, walks in the forest and a nice lunch at home. And the 26th is also a holiday which is a big day for restaurants when so many people go out for lunch to be able to give Mom a break. And then, all too quickly, it’s all over and it’s back to work.
New Year’s end (Sylvester) is another big celebration for many. As in the US, hotels and restaurants plan gala evenings but of course, many stay home, if for no other reason, to avoid the drunk drivers and there are always some around. Fireworks are legal during this time of the year and are plentiful….I can’t remember how much the Germans spend every year on fireworks but it’s in the millions of Euros. The noise starts in the afternoon, builds until midnight and goes on into the wee hours of the morning. The city of Hamburg puts on a professional display over the Alster Lake. The 1st of January, of course, is a holiday and then, again, back to work.
But it was fun, wasn’t it?
Tschuss – Ken