Christmas and holiday traditions are varied and many. Within every family, the traditions are tweaked, and aspects of the traditions are added and removed.
One tradition we had when my brother and I were young was making snowflakes from blue and white construction paper and hanging them from the beam that ran from the dining room to the living room. That was just one aspect of our family’s tradition. I developed a love for Christmas, winter sports like snowboarding and snowmobiling (crashing a few in my day), and the holiday as a whole. I like the music, the snow, the tree, the decorations, and the food.
My Dad’s parents were from Germany and brought their cultural traditions with them. I wanted to learn more about the traditions they brought with them, get to know the German cultural holiday traditions better, and share them with you. One of my favorite Christmas memories is how my Omi, My Dad’s mother, would always include a chocolate orange in the gifts she gave to me. For me, the Christmas season is not complete without indulging in a chocolate orange. Oranges have played a role in Christmas in Germany and in the US. Oranges as gifts left on St. Nicholas day symbolize gold balls that were storied to be given by St. Nicholas. In the US during the great depression, with families barely scraping by, oranges were a luxury Christmas gift.
Half of my mother’s family is from Croatia, and I have never dug into Croatian history to the extent that I have German history, so in this bonus holiday episode, we will look at some of the aspects of German holiday traditions, learning more about some familiar characters, as well as, learn about an aspect of Croatian Christmas tradition that I was completely unfamiliar with.
Let’s start with a walk through the Wienachtsmarkte where we will find some of the holiday favorites of German Christmas: Gluhwein translated Glowing Wine is Christmas in a cup, served warm. Perfect for a chilly stroll around the market. And to pair with our gluhwein, Stollen is a holiday bread famous around the world, full of nuts and fruit, covered in powdered sugar. Some of my favorite German-language holiday tunes might be played throughout the market- Oh Tannenbaum or Stille Nacht. Oh, Tannenbaum celebrates the Christmas tree. But tree decorating is a relatively new tradition at 400 years old, it has however become a staple for most families, whether the tree is decorated at the beginning of the holiday season or if the tree is not decorated until Christmas Eve. Many families wait for the Christkind, the Christ Child, to decorate the tree on Christmas Eve. And a holiday season is not complete for me without hearing Oh Tannenbaum.
To learn more about German and Croatian Christmas traditions, listen to the Christmas Characters & Tradition bonus episode HERE.