Tuesday 5 December 2017

12 Days of Clink Street: Christmas in Germany

Last Updated: 1 January 2021

clink-street, christmas

Christmas for me as a child was a wonderfully long drawn out affair. It started 4 weeks before Christmas with Advent and ended on the 6th of January on Epiphany. During that time there were highlights filled with long-established traditions in our family.

There was no Father Christmas. Presents would be brought by ‘Christkind’ i.e. baby Jesus, on Christmas Eve.

Every Saturday night before the four Advent Sundays we children put our shoes outside our bedroom door, well cleaned and polished and lined with Christmas wrapping paper. If you had been a good girl the angels would come during the night and bring you little presents and on the first weekend also an Advent calendar. Not a bought one with doors to open and finding chocolate behind it but one that was made by my Mum, which must have taken her ages for all of us. Little felt bags on a string for every day with the dates on it. When you opened it there might have been a couple of marbles, some sweets something little that I was really looking forward to.

On December the 4th, St Barbara, we would go into our garden and cut some branches from our fruit trees. These would blossom at Christmas and would decorate our dinner table.

the-watcher, monika-jephcott-thomas, book

On December 6th, St Nicholas was celebrated. In the early evening we would gather as a family in our living room and sing Christmas and Advent songs, read poems and my parents would read us stories. Then at some stage, there would be a loud knock on our front door. St Nikolaus, dressed up as a bishop and Knecht Ruprecht, St Nikolaus’ slave, dressed up as a chimney sweep, black and dusty, would arrive when snow was outside, on a horse-drawn sleigh. He would come into our living room with a golden book and a sack of presents. We would sit with big eyes and in expectations of what presents we would receive and also a bit frightened about how Knecht Ruprecht might punish us if we had not been good over the year. St Nikolaus would read out from his golden book all the good things we had done during the year and also remind us where we had to improve so Knecht Ruprecht would not have to be angry with us next year. Then he left the sack of presents and we waved to him goodbye from our front door when he left in his sleigh. It was so realistic and I wondered for many years how he knew all the things we had done over the year.

On the 3rd Advent, Saturday night we wrote a letter to Christkind with our wishes for presents for Christmas and the angels would take this to him.

Every day during Advent we also had a wooden crib on the window sill of our living room. Every night before going to bed my mother would take us to the crib. We had to either choose some hay if we had been good to put it in the crib or some straw if we had not. We were in other words responsible for how comfortable baby Jesus would be when he was born and would lie in the crib under the Christmas tree. An effective way for parents to get four weeks of good behaviour!

monika-jephcott-thomas, author

On Christmas Eve we would gather up in our dining room and sing Christmas songs until a little bell rang and the angels had finished arranging our presents under the tree (a big fresh pine tree with real candles). After a delightful time of unwrapping, we had our dinner which was always fish and then went to Midnight Mass.

Christmas Day was spent with our grandparents and Christmas dinner always was a goose, red cabbage and Kloesse (dumplings)

We had a relaxing time playing with family, celebrated New Year’s Eve with fireworks in our garden and had a family holiday until Jan 6th, Epiphany. At breakfast, my Mum would have baked a sponge cake and a coffee bean would be buried in it. Whoever got the slice with it was King for the day and could do what they liked (within limits of course). After breakfast, my father followed by us would go to our front and back door and write e.g. AD 19 C+M+B 56 (initials of the 3 kings) in chalk over the front door to bless the house for the coming year and the same on the back door which would first be opened to let the bad spirits out.

Monika Jephcott-Thomas grew up in Dortmund Mengede, north-west Germany. She moved to the UK in 1966, enjoying a thirty-year career in education before retraining as a therapist. Along with her partner Jeff, she established the Academy of Play & Child Psychotherapy in order to support the twenty percent of children who have emotional, behavioural, social and mental health problems by using play and the Creative Arts. The Watcher is available to buy now. 

Do you have any special family traditions at Christmas? Share them in the comments below!

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