Ann-Kristin Afflerbach shares her experience of traditional German Christmases, highlighting the baked goods and Christmas dinners most common to her native country. Whatever your traditions - Christian or otherwise - we hope this article helps you get into the warm, wintery spirit!
Christmas has always been and always will be my favourite holiday of the year. Christmas markets, time with my loved ones and even the stressful present shopping - I love all of it. But what I love above all other things about Christmas is the taste, the different sweets, the particular dishes that hold a memory for me or the ones that are part of a tradition.
The first dish that gets me into the mood for the colder months and eventually Christmas is kale. Coming from the North of Germany, this is a very common dish during winter. It’s warm, hearty, and everything you need on a cold day. Kale has recently been trendy in smoothies, salads, and whatnot, but for me the only ‘true way’ of eating kale is when it’s finely cut and cooked, served with potatoes, sausage, and smoked pork loin. Apparently cooked kale is not eaten in the South of Germany, as I sadly had to find out this year when I moved away from my beloved North.
However, not only cooked kale gets me in the mood for winter. Pea soup does the same thing. I do not particularly like that soup, but it does taste of winter and Christmas to me. Every year up until I was maybe 6 or 7, my family went chopping down a Christmas tree. It was cold, but I enjoyed running around all the trees, searching for the biggest ones, and eventually warming up with pea soup. It was one of my favourite traditions and whenever I smell or taste pea soup, I am reminded of those happy days.
As I got older, the tastes I associate with Christmas have changed slightly. I started roaming the Christmas markets where you can find delicious food at every corner. The first thing at a Christmas market that tells me Christmas is indeed approaching is hot mulled wine. Very traditional for German Christmas markets is Feuerzangenbowle. For this, a sugar loaf soaked in rum is lit above hot mulled wine. The melting sugar drips into the mulled wine - and it is delicious. Traditionally, people also watch a comedy from 1944 called ‘Die Feuerzangenbowle’ around Christmas time.
Over the course of December, more and more Christmas sweets and pastries are sold or handmade. The most traditional German ones are probably Lebkuchen, Dominosteine, Christstollen and Printen. I will touch on each of them below.
Lebkuchen is basically gingerbread, but also not quite so. Traditionally made in the city of Nürnberg, Lebkuchen are a staple for Christmas time. They are made out of flour, honey, almonds, sometimes other nuts, and candied fruits. Typically they will have a very thin wafer on the bottom so that they do not stick while baking. There are also different versions like Aachener Printen, but I prefer the ones with a thin chocolate coating and without fruit.
Dominosteine are small pralines in the form of a cube and even though the name suggests it, they do not look much like dominoes. Underneath a coat of either milk or dark chocolate you will find usually three layers, one being Lebkuchen, one being Marzipan, and the last is usually some kind of fruit jelly. Dominosteine are the embodiment of the German Christmas taste in sweets and I absolutely love them.
Christstollen on the other hand is something I rarely eat, but it is extremely popular around Christmas time. The original Christstollen comes from Dresden in the East of Germany and is basically sweet bread with dried and candied fruit, nuts, and powdered sugar on top. Even though I do not like it too much, I can still appreciate that it represents Christmas time.
After eating all the sweet goods in December, Christmas finally arrives and it is time for a nice dinner with the family. For the traditional German Christmas, every family has their own recipe or version of a dish. A lot of surveys say that the top dinners on Christmas are carp, roasted duck, raclette, and potato salad with sausages. Out of all my friends and family, I have never met anyone who traditionally eats carp every year, but that is just my personal experience. Roasted duck with red cabbage and potato dumplings is very traditional. This is actually eaten all throughout Germany and is highly common for the day the family comes together. I reckon raclette has the same popularity – everyone loves cheese.
My childhood Christmas dinners were usually potato salad and sausages. I can even picture the exact bowl and pot my mom used. It is not a very special dish, nor does it taste extraordinarily good, but it brings back the memory of all those times I spent with my family during my favourite time of the year. We recently broke our traditions and spent the last Christmas dinners at an Italian restaurant. The food is also great, though not very traditional – at least not in the sense of a German tradition. But what matters most is the people I get to spend the time with. And if I feel like the Italian food does not make me feel Christmassy enough, I will just eat some more Dominosteine!
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