With the sun shining and knowing that summer has (finally) greeted us with open arms, it may be a bit odd to reminisce over the days when the cold, snow and ice came down hard with a heavy hand. But, if there was just one thing that I could write and share with you about my time in Germany, it would have to be the celebration of Christmas. They say it’s the most magical time of the year and for Deutschland, it really is.
When wandering the cobblestone streets, you cannot help but feel an extra sense of joy and warmth in the air. The windows are lined by candlelight and a faint dusting of snow, everything glistens and it’s absolutely breathtaking. In the evening, you can hear the voices of children caroling from door-to-door. I have never experienced something so calming and peaceful as I have with this particular holiday season. It felt as if someone blanketed the town with a heavy coat of tranquility.
Sweets like Gebrannte Mandeln (candied, toasted almonds), Lebkuchen (a traditional gingerbread cookie) and Stollen (a sweet bread filled with nuts and candied fruit) can be found. Dishes such as Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes), Knödel (dumplings) and Champignons mit Knoblauchsoße (mushrooms with garlic sauce) are also served. It’s guaranteed that just about every meal will be accompanied by a mug of glühwein (hot mulled wine, with or without a shot of brandy). ‘Tis the season to be jolly!
I was lucky enough to have my December filled with Christmas parties and gatherings all over Germany. I drank wine with scientists in Hamburg, danced in an old barn adorned with the most twinkling lights I have ever seen and sang “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” alone as apart of the entertainment for a holiday party. (Side note: I don’t sing, nor should I, out loud to anyone).
For Christmas Eve and Day, my au pair family and I celebrated in Berlin. It is home for my guest mother, so we stayed with her parents along with other extended family members. Our stay was filled with long walks, museums, baking Christmas cookies, eating, drinking and being merry. We spent a day in Potsdam and explored the Sanssouci Palace, which was absolutely astonishing. We dined at the most magnificent restaurant and incredibly enough, the film director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck joined us for appetizers. Turns out, he’s a family friend. Talk about being caught off guard.
Back in Berlin, the actual celebration took place on the 24th, as it normally does in Germany. It is custom that the tree is decorated on the eve of Christmas and when completed, a bell is rung for the children, signaling the unveiling of the tree followed by the opening of presents.
The majority of holiday activities are done on the 24th and consequently the 25th it is thought of as day of rest and the main meal. The meal on Christmas Eve is on the lighter side, usually consisting of fish and potato salad. A larger meal is prepared on Christmas Day.
I was a bit thrown off by the way everything took place. But all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my holiday and am glad I experienced it the way I did. It was fascinating to be invited into so many homes and see how different families made the holiday their own.
Christmas in Germany will always be one of my fondest memories. The attention to detail from cards to cookies is immaculate. It was heartwarming to know that even though I wasn’t with my own family at that time of year, at least I was in a place where Christmas is cherished and celebrated with respect.
And now that I am so caught up in the moment, I wish you (a very belated), Fröliche Weihnachten.