Germans love planning and preparation. No where is this more evident than during the festive season, when Germans seem to enjoy getting ready for Christmas more than celebrating the big day itself. Cute traditions swarm Bavaria at this time of year and are guaranteed to get even the biggest Scrooge into the Christmas spirit. Here are my top 5 Bavarian Christmassy thingies.
1. Biscuits galore – not Jaffa Cakes.
Bavarian housewives are baking crazy at the best of times. But in December they become total baking maniacs, who froth at the mouth while making the finest home-made biscuits you’ll ever set your tongues on. The beauties – often made with cinnamon and coconut – are baked from the very start of December, not just in the days before Christmas. Pay a visit to a Bavarian family home during this month and you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled upon a biscuit factory. If you banked on pigging out on Christmas Day and watching your diet for the rest of the month, then well, you’re literally stuffed. If you’re offered these exquisite delicacies, saying no is not an option. Doing so is considered ruder than pooing on the hallway rug. If you want to create the illusion of being the perfect Bavarian housewife when you’re not, then fear not, because the biscuits are sold at the Christmas markets for a very reasonable price.
2. The Advent candle wreath. Home-made of course and not from the Bavarian equivalent of Homebase.
Another popular tradition harking back to Bavaria’s religious roots is the Advent candle wreath. You won’t find many lights switched on in Bavarian homes in December as most will have one of these burning away somewhere. The evergreen wreaths usually have four or five candles. One is lit each week from the start of Advent on November 30, with the final lit on Jesus’ birthday – Christmas Day.
3. The Christmas Markets. Bavaria at its best.
Pretty, atmospheric and ever so Christmassy, the stunning Christmas markets spring up in almost every village, town and city from the end of November. They’re a great place to stock up on gifts and/or line your stomachs with food and alcohol. It’s a good job the markets exist too. Shop opening hours in small-town Bavaria are hit and miss to say the least, thanks to the distinct lack of recession here. All shops except those at petrol stations close on Sundays. Then most shut early on a Saturday (even the Saturday just before Christmas, as I found out the hard way last year). Many also close on Wednesdays, and also for about two hours at lunchtimes on the days they finally do open. So if you live outside of Munich, work normal hours and fancy a lie-in on a Saturday, then you’re totally buggered for getting any shopping done.
Therefore the Christmas markets are more of a saviour than Christ himself. They tend to open late afternoons and even encourage the lazy shop-owners nearby to stay open for a bit longer. I love the way Bavarian shopping streets are so traditional, diverse and individual, unlike the monotonous high streets overtaken by chains that blight England. If German high streets want to fight off online competition and avoid the same fate, then shops need to open more. Rant over.
4. St Nicholas. Like Santa but earlier and with an evil helper.
On December 6, German children wake and eagerly check the shoes they left outside their door the evening before. If they were good, they will contain small presents. But if they were bad, they’ll find a lump of twigs where their toes should go. St Nicholas, a bishop celebrated for his good deeds, is the man responsible for rewarding the well-behaved kids. But his evil helper, Knecht Ruprecht, punishes the naughty ones with the twigs. Apparently most children are extremely scared of Knecht, and I often wonder if any parents are mean enough to put twigs in their kids’ shoes instead of say, an iPhone 5 (Bavarians are pretty rich). Ironically, St Nicholas was born a Greek. If he really were real, I doubt he would be rewarding German children today in the current economic climate.
5. Mistletoe. Really does grow on trees.
So this isn’t really a Bavarian tradition as such, but Bavaria has changed the way I look at mistletoe forever. I grew up seeing mistletoe as a tiny branch we brought for £2 at Christmas time from the local garden centre. Never once did I contemplate how mistletoe looked in the wild. In Bavaria, once the leaves have completely fallen off the trees, you can see mistletoe growing in them all over the countryside. From a distance they look like large birds’ nests. In fact, mistletoe is a parasitic plant, which can kill host trees. Sometimes you’ll see 20 of these bunches in a single tree. Now I realise we were completely ripped off paying £2 for such a tiny amount of mistletoe back in the UK, when you can climb a tree in Bavaria and get a huge bunch for free! Christmas kisses really should be available to all.