What it's Like Living in the Epicenter of German Christmas Season
Every November, Germany ditches its changing of the leaves and cameo appearance of harvest squash and starts a'bubbling under the surface with an inexplicable excitement.
The entirety of downtown Nürnberg is strung with lights, 18th century wooden booths are unveiled, promptly festooned with hand-crafted Nutcrackers and other wooden trinkets, all in preparation for the biggest event of the year: Christmas.
Hold its beer: this is Germany's holiday.
Now, to say German Christmas is a big deal is not within our realm of understanding. Our Black Fridays, T.M.T. (too much tinsel) and sitting on Santa's lap, for instance.
It's more a "been around since 1628, drink a Glühwein at 10AM on a Wednesday, one present per kid yet 12 varieties of Kuchen" kind of Christmas. Which is just fine by me.
My friend Briz once took note of the amount of copious breads, cakes and pastries floating around the first time she visited. She calls them "tiny cakes." Well, during Christmas season, the tiny cakes level is turned up to 11. On any given day throughout December, someone will show up at your door unannounced with a Kuchen, Torte, Stollen or other home-baked good that you are obliged to eat, lest you be frowned upon.
In no particular order, the various cakes bound show up at your house: Lebkuchen (gingerbread, invented right here in Nürnberg in the Middle Ages), Stollen (the famous Christmas fruit bread, an acquired taste and a heated debate whether to butter or not to butter. Also, with a maiden name like Stollenwerck, the butt of many bread-based jokes), Zwetchenkuchen (a sheet cake made with plums) and my personal favorite, Apfelstrüdel (you know what this one is).
Even a homemade gingerbread house- a house- ended up in our kitchen. We were just grabbing fistfuls of the roof.
Christmas in a Nut(Cracker)Shell
There's ample debate on where exactly Christmas traditions started, and some would argue it happened right here around Nuremberg.
Legend has it in the 8th century, Saint Bonafice was wandering around in the woods of upper Franconia somewhere, saw a group of heathen Teutons trying to sacrifice a child in a the name of Thor and promptly axed down their spiritual oak tree.
Then in the 1400s, Martin Luther hung some lights on said tree, documents from the 1600s with words like Kindleinbescheren (giving presents to children) and Weihnachtszeit (Christmas time) were unearthed, Nürnberg invented gingerbread and its famous little sausages.
Much later in the 1930s, the National Socialist Party would go on to co-opt the entire holiday, pushing German identity as a giant winter-solstice loving, Thor-worshipping tribe. (That phase was fleeting, though, and after World War II, Christmas returned to the stollen-eating, wine-drinking festivity it is know for today).
I say it often as a marketing ploy to get my friends to visit, but it's true, Nuremberg is possibly the oldest and most famous of the German Christkindlmärkte and consistently on the lists of European Christmas Market musts. A gothic Fraunkirche looms somewhat creepily in the middle distance giving you a kind of medeival, "midwinter is too cold for battles" sort of vibe that can't be missed.
What I love about German Christmas is that it’s so embedded into the culture it has become part of the daily zeitgeist. It's not as much about material gifts as it is 5 hour meals, spontaneous group walks through the forest and yes, more Kuchen. Little house gifts or Mitbringsel are brought for even quick visits throughout the year. The tenets of giving, receiving and social benefits of spending time with friends and family are deeply rooted in German culture.
They have a word for this coziness of home and hearth: Gemütlichkeit. Because in Germany, it's Christmas every day of the year.