Christmas with a “K”

“For Christmas that year Princess Augusta, known to Victoria and Albert’s children as ‘Aunt Prussia,’ sent Vicky four miniature fruit and vegetable shops just like those in Berlin, and to brother Bertie, five cartons of Prussian toy soldiers in wood and lead.”

— An Uncommon Woman, by Hannah Pakula (1997)

In exchange, the Princess Royal’s mother, Queen Victoria, sent a Scottish kilt to Germany, as a present to Fritz, the fifteen-year-old prince.

Aunt Prussia  forced the poor lad to wear it for a State dinner.

Set of World War I toy German soldiers.

I love vintage German ornaments. The reproductions are quite nice, too. They remind me that a lot of Christmas as we know it came from Germany.

German “putz” houses

glass tree ornaments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

German Christmas customs have become so embedded it’s easy to forget their origin. The Advent wreath, for instance, marks the Sundays of Advent. On each one I pray that the combination of so much greenery adjacent to an open flame does not burn the church down.  Weihnachtsmarkte, the Christmas market, makes a great fundraiser for any group, be it a historical society or a soccer booster club. Der Adventskalender, or Advent calendar, is meant to provide order to the wild anticipation children experience with the coming of Christmas.

This is entirely theoretical, of course.

A 1970s Advent Calendar — from Cold War West Germany

 

They even say der Weihnachtsmann, or Christmas man,  resembles Santa Claus. Scholars would have us believe this mythical figure is derived from Thor.

A Santa worth waiting up for.

Merry Christmas!

Advertisements

The Legend of the Easter Egg

“The earth as yet yields nothing. The trees bear no fruit. Eggs are the first gift of reanimated nature. — The Easter Eggs by Christophe von Schmid, 1814

Thus said a mysterious noble lady who had fallen upon hard times and made her way through Bavarian forests to seek refuge among the peasants. Though she was a stranger in their midst, the folk of this isolated village strove to make her comfortable, each according to their own talents and gifts–a cottage, cheese and bread, wood to burn and wild fowl to eat. She was astonished to find they had never known the value of a laying hen and so she sent her servant abroad to sell her jewels that he might return with several chickens and a rooster.

beautifully illustrated--timeless reading

beautifully illustrated–timeless reading

Throughout the winter she planned to repay the villagers’ kindness with a rustic festival on Easter. After they had journeyed to the church two leagues and back again, the children were invited to the lady’s garden. There they ate a special dish made of eggs and warm milk. Then the lady led them into a small wood nearby where they were instructed to make little nests of the moss that grew around the base of trees. Back to the garden to partake of an egg-shaped cake while the lady’s servant slipped into the wood and placed hardened eggs, dyed of various colors, into the nests.

When the children were urged back to the spot where they had made their nests, their astonishment was great:

“Oh!” said a little boy. “They must be rare birds to lay such pretty eggs; I should so like to see them.”

“Ah,” said the youngest of the children, “hens do not lay them, I am sure. I believe they were laid by the hare that I saw come out of those juniper-bushes when I was looking for moss to make my nest.”

All the children immediately burst into a laugh, and jokingly said: “It is the hare which has laid all the colored eggs!”

A joke which is common to this day in many countries.

 

Nun danket alle Gott

“Now Thank We All Our God” has made its appearance once before in this blog.Eilenburg, Germany

Eilenburg was known as a center for German Reformation, prosperous and even boasting a walled exterior by the late sixteenth century. It was greatly favored by its Duke, George of Saxony.

Martin Luther called it a blessed lard pit.

Then came the Thirty Years’ War. By that time, Martin Rinkart (1586 – 1649) had become one of four pastors serving the town. Hundreds of refugees fleeing the fighting had taken shelter in Eilenburg and soon disease spread, culminating in the Great Pestilence. Afterwards came famine and it was not uncommon to see wretches in the street fighting over dead animals to eat.

One of the pastors fled the town and refused to return. The other two died, leaving Rinkart to officiate at their funerals in addition to many, many more, almost 4,500 in all. Not even his wife was spared.

Nevertheless, Rinkart still found time to compose prayer. The following offer of thanksgiving is his most famous, written to comfort his children:

Happy ThanksgivingNow thank we all our God

With hearts and hands and voices;

Who wondrous things hath done,

In whom this world rejoices.

Who, from our mother’s arms,

Hath led us on our way,

With countless gifts of love,

And still is ours today.