Weihnachtsmann . . . Weihnachtsbaum
Part of Our Christmas Tradition
This article was presented by Marcia J. Shortreed of the Regional Municipality of Waterloo’s Heritage Resources.
Telling the story of Christmas is like peeling away centuries of wallpapers. Here in Canada, extra layers have been added as the traditions of the various European nations have been accepted into the way of life. To residents of Waterloo Region of German ancestry, Christmas is Weihnachten symbolized by the Christkindl, Advent wreaths and calendars and the beautiful Christmas tree.
Germany is land of forest and the German character in literature and music has always been linked to the mysteries of the woodlands. It is no wonder that the evergreen tree became linked to the nativity of Christ. Legend has it that Martin Luther brought a small tree into his home and decorated it with candles and glittering decorations to teach his children about the
shining starry skies on the night when Christ was born. The first actual written description of a Christmas tree came in 1605 from Strasburg, “they set up fir trees in the parlours and hang theron paper roses, apples, wafers, gold foil and sweets”.
Later the Christmas tree became part of the literature of Goethe and Schiller.
The Weihnachtsbaum Christmas tree became part of every German home by the nineteenth century. In the towns throughout Germany, Christkindlsmarkts in the marketplace were set up at the beginning of Advent. Hundreds of fir trees were offered for sale by women wearing their treasured regional costumes. The surrounding stalls offered all manner of candles, wooden toys, glass ornaments and sweets to hand on the tree.
The Nuremberg market was famous for its gingerbread made into shapes to hang on the tree; And the gold angel who greeted visitors to the market became a tradition. The life size angel was always played by a child, but the angel was reproduced by the toy-makers and became a traditional ornament to hang at the top of the tree in countless homes. It is believed that the gold angel represents the Christ child in the nativity and miracle plays of medieval times.
German Canadians often put a candle in the window on Christmas Eve to welcome the Christkindl who will bring presents to the children. As time went on in North America and as popular literature became widely read, the figure of the Christkindl became confused with other gift bearing figures such as the Dutch Sinterklaas and the English Father Christmas.
Pennsylvania Germans had a Belsnickle or Peltznickle who wore a fur coat, a mask and a beard and rattled chains or jingled bells and chased children who have forgotten to say their prayers.
Easter in Zehlendorf
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Katrin Wolters was born and lived in West Berlin – Zehlendorf, spent most of her youth in Luneburg, and came to Canada in 1980, and is presently a German Heritage Language teacher
Easter reminds me of my childhood when I lived in Zehlendorf, the then west side of Berlin.
Easter preparations in our family started long before Easter Sunday. Weeks in advance, my mom would remember not to break the eggs when baking a cake, but to blow them out.
Blowing eggs out is not an easy task. You poke a little hole in each end of the egg and then blow as hard as you can into one hole, hoping the egg comes out of the other side.
Since it was very strenuous, other members of the family had to help in blowing. You can imagine how many eggs survived this harsh treatment, especially in my hands, as I was only 4 years old. But it was fun! If we didn’t have any whole eggs to show for, we tried again another time.
These blown out eggs were rinsed and dried, and on a quiet afternoon, we, my mom and my younger sister and brother would paint them in different colours and hang them onto a pussy willow bouquet. This made a pretty decoration on our Easter Sunday’s breakfast table.
It gave me great pleasure to be the chosen one of three children to help decorate the Easter breakfast table. That morning my mom would boil five eggs. Eggs were a treat in those days in my family! After they were ready, we drew faces on the shells to make them look like bunnies – that was a lot of fun! Then we would all sit down and enjoy a table full of fresh warm buns, home-made jam and the eggs.
After breakfast my parents would invite us to go on an Easter hunt; If the weather permitted it, we had it outside, otherwise it was indoors. I remember that the ones that were the most fun were the ones in the garden. We would look beside the trees and inside the bushes to see if there were any signs of the Easter bunny having been there; And sure enough, after a while, we would come up on some yummy chocolate Easter eggs, with nugat or marzipan filling. Sometimes the Easter bunny even left some clothes or toys for us.
At noon time we had a festive hot meal that we enjoyed with my grandmother and my uncle and his family. We then often went for a walk through the woods around one of the big lakes in Berlin. It was great to run around in the woods. To our surprise we would find the chocolate eggs throughout the woods … was the Easter bunny here today too?
At the end of the day, after light dinner, we would have a big fire in the garden, where all the branches and bushes that had accumulated from the fall were burned, as we all watched on.
It was a spectacular ending for a great day in the circle of our friends and family. In bed I would fall asleep with the warm feeling of happiness, and wandering how I could have missed seeing this hard working Easter bunny all day!