Sunday, December 5, 2010

Niemand macht Weihnachten wie die Deutschen

More or less.

German Christmas traditions have had a major influence on modern Christmas through Victorian London and Charles Dickens.  I suppose I should say "Germanic" Christmas traditions and include other Teutonic or Nordic groups as well.

Growing up I recall my uncle having a collection of nutcrackers and I even remember seeing smokers in Christmas shops.  My family went to many Christmas shops.  My mother would go to a Christmas shop in the middle of July at a beach.  She really dug Christmas.
Smokers are these neat little incense burners that look like people, usually holding a pipe, and the smoke comes out of their mouths.
A traditional smoker.  The incense smoke comes from the "O" shaped mouth opening
These are functional, which is more than we can say for the nutcrackers.  Nutcrackers are now decorative, collectible items.  I enjoy them.  They are inaction figures indeed.  They also say "Christmas" to us.  Thank you Germany, oh and Tchaikovsky.

A traditional nutcracker
Nutcrackers have been updated over time, but the classic form remains and that is what I like about them.  They stand like little soldiers, brightly colored, but they do not suggest war.  You cannot look a nutcracker and think of war.  Nightmares maybe, but not war.  Of course put these guys on your front line and you might not need to fight.  The enemy, upon seeing 1000 nutcrackers each 7 feet tall and grinning with those dead, dead eyes, marching forward, slowly, inexorably, would likely drop their weapons and fall to the ground crying for mother and whatever god they pray to.
Or maybe just run for their collection of hard to open nuts.  Either way, we win.
If you are looking for nutcrackers you can find them everywhere like Target, Michaels and even Wal Mart, but I did a little poking about online and found some very nice sites.

Erzebirge-Palace is a great website for German handcrafted holiday items, such as nutcrackers and smokers:

What else do we get from Germans?
O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum, thy pagan roots are covered in presents
Yes, Christmas trees.
From the ancient Jul Log to the Victorian practices of the very German Queen and Prince Consort of England (Victoria and Albert for those who don't Google) the use of living green decorated to symbolize the winter festival is ancient.  The practices of Vicky and Al became the fashion in England and America and now everybody has to have one.  It became very cool in the 60's to have ALUMINUM TREES (with or without COLOR WHEEL!)
Aluminum Tree (my dad still owns one)
Color Wheel using a powerful spot light and rotating translucent plastic disk to cast changing colors over the aluminum strips of the tree (dad has this too)

If that's not going from the sacred to the profane I don't know what is.  Okay, I can think of far worse examples, but this is not the place for that sort of thing.
Lots of good info on this phenomenon (not meme, there was no interwebs back then) here:
These days Christmas trees come in all varieties from live trees a family can cut down themselves (a tradition in my house for many, many years) to cutsey little fiber optic jobs you sit on a table, but we owe this particular tradition where we bring the outdoors into our house, light it up and give it presents to Germany (and by extension the whole Teutonic peoples). Yep, not pagan at all...

Now a celebrity opinion:
What do you think, Johnny Bravo?
I dig them metal trees, man.  I can see my reflection in 'em and man, I'm pretty!
Until next time, keep your tree lit.


  1. Speaking of Teutonic peoples, how about another holiday favorite for them that I wish would make its way to American popularity. The consuming of Glühwein and Glögg. I'm warm just thinking of it.

  2. I've seen people do it. I've even had it at parties. I'm just not huge on hot wine.