Christmas / Weihnachten (pronounced Vi – nock – ten) The Christmas holidays are a time for tradition! So much of our customs have been passed down for generations from our German ancestors. This month we gathered just a few and packed them into this newsletter just for you! We hope you enjoy and invite you to add your own (on our Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/mo.germans/) and share the JOY with everyone. We wish you the happiest of holidays, from the First day of Advent to Three Kings Day! Enjoy! Here is our list of some of our favorite things… Advent Calendar (Adventskalender), Advent Wreath (Adventskranz), Christ Child (Christkindl), Christmas pyramids (Weihnachtspyramiden), Christmas Trees (Tannenbaum) , Cookies (Springerle), Nutcrakers (Nussknacker),, Santa Claus (St. Nicholas). There are so many more, we can’t possibly share them all in this newsletter! We’ve packed this newsletter full and hope you enjoy the Springerle Cookies and the Calendar of Christmas Events we’ve packed into the end!
The Advent Wreath – Adventskranz is adorned with four candles, one of which is lit on each of the four Sundays preceding Christmas. The first Advent wreath, which appeared in the mid-19th century, had 4 larger candles and 19 smaller ones. Each day one additional candle was lit to help the children count the days until Christmas. Today only the four larger candles remain. The tradition of a ring of light existed among the Germanic tribes many centuries before the celebration of Advent. It is believed that fewer candles were lit with each progressive lighting to represent the shortening of the days until the solstice, at which time the Julfest celebrated the return of light. (Incidentally, the English word yule is a cognate with the Germanic Jul). The Advent Calendar – Adventskalender is a German invention that was originally designed to involve children in the festivities leading up to Christmas. The calendars are usually made of cardboard and have 24 small windows or flaps, one of which is opened on each day leading up to Christmas. Behind each window is a Christmas scene or motif. Nowadays, calendars may contain chocolate or candy behind each window, and sometimes even small toys. The Advent calendar is a more recent invention of modern capitalism. Originally, families would mark the 24 days of December preceding Christmas with a chalk line on the wall. The first hand-crafted Advent calendars were produced in the mid-19th century; the first printed calendar appeared in Munich in 1903. Eventually the custom was exported all over the world.
Santa Claus – St. Nicholas – St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6th in Germany. On the evening before the 6th, children place their newly cleaned shoes in front of the door in the hope that Nicholas might fill them with nuts, fruits, chocolate, and sweets. If the children have behaved well, their wishes will be fulfilled. Children who have caused mischief will receive only a switch, which symbolizes punishment for their bad deeds. The real St. Nicholas lived in the 4th century and was the bishop of a region located in present-day Turkey. Through stories and legends associated with him, he became known as the protector of children and the anonymous bestower of gifts upon them. Over the centuries, the life and deeds of St. Nicholas were celebrated on the saint’s appointed day, the 6th of December. By the Middle Ages, the observance had already become a celebration of children and a day on which they received gifts. It was the German Martin Luther who sought to sever the connection between the saint and the gift-giving celebration for children, because in his Reformation theology, there was no place for the glorification of saints. Rather than abolishing the custom outright, Luther replaced the persona of Nicholas with that of the Christ child; in his Protestant teachings, not Nicholas but rather now the baby Jesus was attributed with bringing the children gifts, and not on the saint’s day but rather at Christmas. Today in many regions of Germany, not Saint Nick, but rather the Christkindl leaves Christmas gifts for children on December 24th.
Christmas Tree – Tannenbaum – Born in 1796, Karl Follen grew up in Hesse-Darmstadt, one of the scores of principalities that made up the Germany of that day. It was there that, as a boy, he experienced each year the magic of the brilliantly-lit Christmas tree. In 1813 Follen began law studies at Giessen University, but soon interrupted his studies to enlist with his older brother in the Hessian volunteers fighting Napoleon. He was caught up in revolutionary activities, and fearing for his liberty and even his life, he fled from Giessen to Jena, then to Switzerland, and finally to Paris. There he met the Marquis de Lafayette, who urged him to go to America. So in 1824, at age twenty-eight, Follen began his career in America. During his first year he taught German and gymnastics at the Round Hill School in Northampton, Massachusetts. The year 1830 was a banner year for Follen, as he became a U.S. citizen, and was appointed to a full-time chair in German language and literature at Harvard, and their first child was born. Follen wanted his son ”little Charley” to experience the same magic of the lighted Christmas tree that had enchanted him as a boy in Germany. When Charley turned five, the Follens set up a tree in their home and invited little Charley’s friends and their families to a party, at which the unveiling of the tree would be a special surprise—doubly so, because up to this time Christmas trees were unheard of in Puritan New England. They also invited a distinguished guest for this occasion, Harriet Martineau, a widely-read British author who was traveling in America. She was in on the surprise, and came early to help with the preparations. She also took careful note of the event as it unfolded in the Follen household that evening, and subsequently published her account. “I was present,” she wrote, “at the introduction into the new country of the spectacle of the German Christmas tree. In 1834, Karl Follen’s brother Paul, had emigrated to Dutzow, Missouri, with his brother-in-law Friedrich Muench, co-founders of the Giessen Emigration Society. Undoubtedly the custom of the Tannenbaum had also made its way all the way to the Far West frontier as well!
And a SpRiNGErle cookie too!favorite Christmas Cookie – the Springerle –
For eating quality, ease and quality of prints this recipe is just perfection! What you’ll need:
- 1/2 teaspoon baker’s ammonia (Hartshorn) or baking powder
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 6 large eggs, room temperature
- 6 cups powdered sugar (1 1/2 #)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened but not melted
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of anise (if substituting fruit flavored oils, use 3 teaspoons)
- 2 lb. box sifted cake flour (Swansdown or Softasilk)
- grated rind of orange or lemon – optional (enhances flavor of the traditional anise or the citrus flavors)
- more flour as needed
Dissolve hartshorn in milk and set aside. Beat eggs till thick and lemon-colored (10-20 minutes). Slowly beat in the powdered sugar, then the softened butter. Add the hartshorn and milk, salt, preferred flavoring, and grated rind of lemon or orange, if desired. Gradually beat in as much flour as you can with the mixer, then stir in the remainder of the 2 lbs. of flour to make stiff dough. Turn onto floured surface and knead in enough flour to make a good print without sticking.
On a floured surface, roll dough into a flat pancake approximately 1/2 inch thick. Roll thinner or thicker based on the depth of the carving in the cookie press you are using. Shallow carvings will need to be thinner while deeper carvings will need to be thicker. Flour your cookie mold for each and every pressing. Press the mold firmly and straight down into the dough, then lift, cut and place the formed cookie onto a flat surface to dry. (I like to put the formed cookies directly onto a parchment lined cookie sheet, but you may put them on a countertop or tabletop covered with flour sack cloths if you do not have enough cookie sheets.)
Do not cover the cookies while they dry. The goal of drying is to set the design. Let the cookies dry at least 12 hours;24 hours is best. Larger cookies and warm humid weather may require longer drying times. Cookies that are not dried long enough will not retain the beautiful designs, but will taste fine.
Bake on greased or baker’s parchment-lined cookie sheets at 255° to 325° till barely golden on the bottom, 10-15 minutes or more, depending on size of cookie.Store in airtight containers or in zipper bags in the freezer. They keep for months, and improve with age. Yield 3 to 12 dozen.
We want to wish all of you a very happy and memorable Christmas, and may the coming year be filled with PEACE! LOVE! And JOY!
Dorris Keeven-Franke, Executive Director
Missouri Germans Consortium https://mo-germans.com/