Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Greeting: Frohliche Weihnachten ("Merry Christmas")
St. Nicholas Tradition: Sankt Nikolaus.  In some areas of Germany, children also write letters to Christindl, the Christ Child, who they believe brings them gifts as well.
Highlighted Custom: Tannenbaum (Christmas Tree)

Germany is famous for its Christmas markets, where shoppers are treated to the aroma of baked fruit loaves, bratwurst (sausage), roasted nuts, and lebkuchen (gingerbread spice cookies), as they make their way between red-roofed stalls full of toys and Christmas decorations.

Maybe you could spend a quiet afternoon baking gingerbread cookies with your child and reading Jan Brett's fun Gingerbread Baby.

"I am the Gingerbread Baby,
Fresh from the pan.
If you want me,
Catch me if you can!"

What about gingerbread houses?
Make your own! [source]
 The tradition of baking the sweetly decorated houses began in Germany after the Brothers Grimm published their collection of German fairy tales in the early 1800s. Among the tales was the story of Hansel and Gretel, children left to starve in the forest, who came upon a house made of bread and sugar decorations. The hungry children feasted on its sweet shingles. After the fairy tale was published, German bakers began baking houses of lebkuchen --spicy cakes often containing ginger -- and employed artists and craftsmen to decorate them. The houses became particularly popular during Christmas, a tradition that crossed the ocean with German immigrants. Pennsylvania, where many settled, remains a stronghold for the tradition...Nuremberg, Germany, became known as the "Gingerbread Capital of the World" in the 1600s when the guild employed master bakers and artisans to create intricate works of art from gingerbread, sometimes using gold leaf to decorate the houses.
-"HOLIDAY TRADITION WITH SPICY HISTORY," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 9, 2001, METRO, Pg.N-9

What about St. Nicholas?

In the Catholic areas of Germany, Sankt Nikolaus still comes as a bishop with flowing beard and a bishop's miter and staff.  Children put letters to the saint in their shoes with straw and carrots for his horse, and leave them outside their door on the evening of December 5 (the night before St. Nicholas Day). His hungry horse will eat the contents of the shoes and then St. Nicholas will refill them with apples and nuts. Children who have misbehaved will find their shoes filled with coal.
Religious reformer Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant religion, is credited with starting the custom of giving gifts to children on Christmas Day.  According to legend, Luther started the tradition of giving gifts on Christmas as a substitute for St. Nicholas Day on December 6. German children would ask for presents by writing a letter to the Christkindl, or Christ Child.

What about O Tannenbaum?
The Christmas tree, may also have originated in Germany. This custom is again attributed to Martin Luther, who is said to have decorated a fir tree with candles and brought it into his house. He said the candles symbolized the light of Christ.

Decorations have changed over the years.  Branches once hung with paper roses, cookies and fruit are now laden with beautiful glass ornaments, wooden hand-carved and painted angels, straw stars, and lebkuchen baked in different shapes. Handcrafted ornaments from Germany are treasured around the world!

Speaking of handcarved woodcrafts, thanks to the Nutcracker Ballet and Tchaikovsky's beautiful music, many children today are familiar with Christmas nutcrackers. While the first nutcrackers were produced to more efficiently crack nuts, the first German nutcrackers as decorative pieces were developed somewhere between the late 1400s and early 1500s. Early German nutcrackers were designed in the shapes of animals, birds, and people. It was not until the late 1600s and early 1700s these handcrafted nutcrackers took on the personas of the kings, soldiers, church leaders, and policemen. People of Germany enjoyed using the nutcrackers that were shaped like the ruling classes because it reduced them to the position of mere crackers of nuts rather than possessing any authoritative power over their individual freedoms.

There are many beautiful picture books about the Nutcracker Ballet, bu my favorite is by Susan Jeffers. (click here to read my post)

Information about St. Nicholas found at: www.stnicholascenter.org

No comments:

Post a Comment