Friday, December 24, 2010

Heiligabend means Christmas Eve!


according to Wikipedia, this is the German tradition of Christmas Eve. Check it out.

In some families the whole family comes together; in others December 24 is celebrated only by the close family, whereas the larger family (grandparents, uncles & aunts, etc.) will visit on the first or second Day of Christmas (December 25 and 26 respectively).
Before the Bescherung (gift giving) begins, many Germans go to church. Christmas masses/services often last around one hour. Families with children go to a children's mass which is usually shorter and dramatised with a Krippenspiel, which is a nativity play.
While everyone else is at church, one of the adults prepares the Christmas tree and turns on electric lights or lights decorative candles, and puts on festive Christmas music and places the gifts under the tree.
When the family comes back from the church, the living room is locked. The children must wait to enter into the prepared room until a little bell rings. This bell marks the departure of the Christ Child (Christkind) who, according to tradition, brings the presents (instead of Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus). Revealing the decorated Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas tree) with all the presents is a big surprise. For the Bescherung, the only light comes from the Christmas tree lights (in the past real candles, today electric lights rather than candles).
Many families will sing traditional Christmas carols or play music on flutes and/or guitars around the tree before opening the gifts.
The gifts lie under the tree, wrapped in colorful paper, and the children unwrap them before the big Christmas feast. Adults may also share gifts while the children are opening theirs. Many families also prepare decorated paper bags or carton plates (Weihnachtsteller) for each of the children and adults. These are full of treats and are often in the shape of angels or Santa Claus, who is called Weihnachtsmann in German.

All of this, to the letter, applies to the Christmas Eves of my childhood. I never enjoyed the church bit (hey, c'mon, what child does?), but the little silvery sound of the bell, the smell of the tree (remember- I am conservative, its gotta be the real thing... or it did have to be...), the soft glow of the lights in the tinsel (red one year, purple the next) and even the flute, played enthusiastically by yours truly, were cherished.

I used to get two Bescherungen, one with my grandparents who technically raised me and one with my Mum and her partner who lived two flights of stairs above us in the same house. My Mum always had "the same tree"... the tree itself, of course, changed from year to year, but the decorations never did. To this day, they did not.
She, in fact, is the only person I know who still uses real candles in her tree. She might only light them on the actual Christmas Eve and substitute them with electrical lights for the rest of the season, but there are CANDLES in her tree. I remember the smell of real bees wax like I had only experienced it 5 minutes ago.
Her tree was and is a feast for my sore, tired eyes. It has been years since I last saw it, but please spare a minute to admire MUMS CHRISTMAS TREE 2009.

All the gifts are arranged around it, and on the wall you see my silly face under a silly hat overlooking the scene.
Her apartment is tiny, and the tree is always quite big. I know that green sucker reminds her of years gone by just as much as any Christmas tree reminds me of her.

I don't really care if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, Ashura or Diwali... nothing, all of the above or something entirely different... I would love for you to use 5 minutes today to sit back and gather your favourite memories. Sit back and unwrap them like a really expensive piece of chocolate. If you are on a diet, unfold them like the first love letter you ever received, carefully as to not tear the slightly age- worn paper.
Look at what is right in front of you, and then read between th lights. Remember smells, sounds, colours, whatever makes those memories special for you.
When your 5 minutes are up, pick up the phone, grab a pen or open your mail program. Get in touch with somebody nice. Mom, niece, Granddad, the wicked witch of the east, somebody who unexpectedly dropped you a line or two, your divorce lawyer, your vet... it doesn't matter.

I have come to the conclusion that all this holiday stuff really is about the fuzzy feeling inside. And I don't mean the eggnog. Go and share it, it has a tendency to grow. Bugger, eh?

Thanks for following me on my little adventure as far as you did. I hope you will keep traipsing along with me as you guys give me almost as fuzzy, warm and, well, LOVED a feeling as my favourite Christmas memories do. Your support has been amazing, and I love and appreciate each and one of you strange people who keep stopping by for inexplicable reasons to work their way through my ramblings.

Happy Holidays, everybody- Frohe Weihnachten!


  1. Frohe Weihnachten to you to x My sister used to live in Germany and although I never spent Christmas there I loved visiting around December as the sights and smells of the markets and shops were amazing.
    Christmas is indeed a time for memories and I always find its the smell that make them flood back.
    Christmas eve for us is a quiet occasion now our children have left home, but even as adults they all still want their dad to read the the night before Christmas poem, the difference is now its all done by phone haha
    I will pop your owl in the post this morning and I hope you love him as much as I did making him x
    Have a great christmas
    janice x

  2. In Holland we celebrate on the eve of the 25th... But with my very German upbringing we always had Christmas eve on the 24th. My mother used to ring the bell and we would come storming down the stairs :) Luckily the bf doesnt care when we celebrate as long as there is a present so I have been able to continue the tradition (minus the bell though) throughout my life :) Merry Christmas (better late than never LOL)!

  3. beautiful

  4. Lovely post.

    We have a real tree in our home with decorations going back to the 1960's up to the present day. I come from a large family and so does my husband. I went to my Auntie's yesterday...there were 25 of us but in previous years it's been up to 30! Fantastic atmosphere but rather hectic! Later today my in-laws are over for buffet tea (-;

    Merry Christmas Steff and a Happy New Year!

  5. It is really quite like we celebrate christmas. Most of the time without going to the church. My family on the german side really was never into religion. Not after what the grandparents experienced in the second world war and although this is long time ago it affects their children and their grandchildren. Some people are surprised how this makes for them (and therefire for all of the family) christmas more special. It was and still is about family and it is never taken for granted.

    And we always have a real tree and real candles! Alone the though of electric candles makes even the kids shuddering! Yes, you have to stay there and pay attention to the candles. Yes, it takes a good time of work to make sure that all the candles are at a safe place, that the floor gets it protetion out of metal, that there is nothing above the candle flame.

    My father always buys the really expensive bee wax candles. The smell is unbeliveable! Although a lot of my friends and their family (and also the scotish part of my family) uses electric lights (and sometimes even no real trees!) alone the though of it makes me sad. Christmas without the smell of a real tree, the flickering and warm light of real candles and the scent of the bee wax... there would be something missing.. some enchantment... :)

    PS: I don't have a tree at my own flat because I always go to my family at christmas therefore I don't have to be careful because of my cats. Will be a challenge as soon as christmas will take place in my home with all the family...!

  6. Merry Merry to you too!
    WONDERFUL POST, btw. Well said. And I loved hearing about how you grew up in Germany. Seems like we all have a different traditional dance this time of year, but it's based on the same rhythm. Soon as I get home tonight I'll take your advice, sit down for five minutes and remember all those happy memories and feelings....get some Christmas spirit on before the season passes all together!

  7. This may be your best post ever. This really embodied the season, and what we all look forward to- recreating the perceived perfection we hold in our childhood hearts. Just beautifully written. Thank you.