Tag Archives: christmas tree

Christmas tree traditions in Germany

This year we actually did the proper German thing with the Christmas tree. OK, it wasn’t intentional. It was because of all the snow that we didn’t go out early and buy a tree. It was the 23rd by the time I managed to scrape the car free of ice and snow and venture out in search of food, last minute presents and a Christmas tree. Fortunately the entire German nation had also been holed up in the blizzard, so Christmas trees had not sold out.

The tree on arrival was dumped unceremoniously outside the front door where it spent the night.

On Christmas Eve we brought the tree inside and decorated it.

Had we been proper Germans, of course, we would have risked burning the house down and used proper candles on the tree. Given that our house is made of wood and lined with bookshelves, this didn’t sound like the most sensible idea though, so we stuck to electric lights.

Had we been proper Germans, we would have spent the evening sitting round the tree singing “Stille Nacht” and various other traditional Christmas songs. Again, being philistines, in fact although we did gather in the room with the tree, we made our own music which was mainly not particularly Christmassy – although the kids did perform a fabulous jazz version of “Leise rieselt der Schnee” with Dad on piano, son on guitar, youngest daughter on vocals and eldest daughter on the cajon.  Glühwein and Kinderpunsch all round. Admittedly with mince pies.

Presents definitely not opened on Christmas Eve though. We’re not that German!

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German Christmas pyramids

Christmas is the time of year when you construct pyramids in your house.  I don’t mean a Valley of the Kings stone affair… I mean a wooden one with candles and a windmill on the top. Obviously.

The Christmas pyramid is a sort of Heath-Robinson contraption which uses the convection current of hot air from candles to power a windmill and spin the pyramid. Unlike most other German inventions, this one has absolutely no practical purpose. None whatsoever.

Most German homes are content with a small table-top affair these days. Something that looks like this.

By Richard Huber (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

German towns and cities tend to build rather grander versions – often displayed at the local Christmas market.  The figures on the different tiers of the pyramids rotate, to indicate to people that they have drunk rather more Glühwein than is good for them.  Or something.

Creative Commons

Originally these decorative carved pyramids date from the middle ages and symbolise light driving away darkness at Christmas time (literally and figuratively).  They pre-date the Christmas tree, which became a more popular decoration – probably due to it being easier to chop down a tree and bring it into the house than to spend months whittling away carving a wooden Christmas pyramid.

Many Germans still use real candles to illuminate their Christmas trees – at the annual risk of burning the house down, of course. What is it about Christmas that suddenly makes an otherwise sensible nation forget about Vorsprung durch Technik?

Wikimedia Commons

In the old days families would add to their collection of wooden figures in the Christmas pyramid every year, in the same way that nowadays people buy a few new baubles for the Christmas tree. For those who are trying to decide between a real or an artificial Christmas tree this year – a Christmas Pyramid could be the most amazing artificial tree you ever bought!

Alternatively, if you start carving now, you might have your very own pyramid ready for Christmas 2011….

 

 

 

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Images of Christmas in Germany

This year felt like a proper German Christmas.

For a start there was snow. Proper snow, rather than just a dusting which turns to slush on contact with the ground. This is what our driveway looked like.

For a couple of days it looked like we might not be able to get out and buy a Christmas tree at all. But eventually we did venture onto the roads… and found to our surprise that they had been cleared enough to be drivable.

For once it was pretty late when we put up the tree… Christmas Eve no less. We must be turning German!

One of the things I like about Christmas trees is all the different types of decorations you can buy here. I’ve been collecting a few every year for the 18 years we’ve lived in Germany. I went for non-breakable, child oriented designs mainly, because for a lot of those years we had young children… and for some of the other years we had kittens in the house.

Here are some close-ups from the tree.

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A butter Christmas tree? What?

This is another alien moment. You know. Just when you think you’ve become immune to every weird thing life in Germany can throw at you… something happens that makes you feel totally, utterly abroad.

This was what happened yesterday when my daughter came home from school. She said she’d called in at the bakery in Düsseldorf to pick up a belegtes Brötchen on her way into school.

“And they gave me a free Christmas gift, Mum.”

“Ooh, lovely dear. What was it?”

“A butter Christmas tree.”

What?

It was all true. On the table was indeed a butter Christmas tree. There was no denying it. I might not immediately have recognised it, but it said “Weihnachtsbaum” on it in big letters, so there could be no doubt.

Just when you thought you’d got the Germans completely sussed… the sensible, practical Germans. People who can build Audis and Porsches, precision tools and high powered microscopes. And then they bring you the butter Christmas tree.

What a remarkably impractical gift, first thing in the morning, for any school child or office worker who is buying their morning sandwich. For a start, a 100 gram lump of butter is not an ideal extra little snack to round off your breakfast. No, you’re going to have to carry it around with you all day. First into your centrally-heated classroom or office, where it will sit, melting in your coat pocket for several hours.

At the point when it has reached maximum squidginess, you’ll be just getting onto a crowded commuter tram home… with other passengers pressing up against your butter-tree, crushing the packaging (trust me, the lid pops off easily!) and letting the sticky butter embed itself into the lining of your jacket.

For the lucky ones who get a seat on the tram, there will be the heater next to your leg, gently liquefying the butter sludge, so that it oozes from your coat lining and forms an oily puddle on the tram’s upholstery. Soaking into your trousers in the meantime, of course.

I can guarantee that I won’t be taking public transport into Düsseldorf for the next few days… or if I do, I’ll avoid the rush hour and be very cautious about sitting down. I wonder how often they clean the seat covers….

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