The fourth Sunday before Christmas marks the beginning of the German Christmas time: on that day, the first of four candles are lit on the advent wreath, followed by another one on each of the Sundays right up until Christmas Eve.
We do like our advent period: long gone are the days of fasting – in medieval times, butter was banned from St Martin’s until Christmas Eve, and up into the 20th Century, dancing and partying was forbidden, too, in the four weeks leading up to Christmas. But traditions change, thankfully, and we are left with an abundance of breads, biscuits and cookies to be made and eaten during the Advent period.
Most German families will have an advent wreath of some sort: traditionally it is made of fir, and the most common colours are red and gold. In many houses the wreath is suspended from the ceiling, making for an impressive and incredible beautiful decoration. Unfortunately, our tiny English cottage does not have enough space for that, which means our wreath gets moved around a lot between the dining table, the piano and the space in front of the fire place.
I used Christmas decorations for ours, some of them we have had since I was a child myself, such as this little baby in t crib:
I still remember touching the soft pillows when I was little – have you noticed how many of your earliest memories are to do with touch and smell? The smell of fresh fir is definitely part of my Christmas memories!
In Germany, you can find firs and cut off branches in most forests – simply tie them around a round straw ring using wire and you have a basic wreath.
When I moved to the UK, wreaths were still quite a novelty, and there’s not a lot of fir growing around Belfast. With a few empty bottles, red candles and some moss (or Mind-Your-Own-Business, a rather pretty weed that is bent on covering our front garden) you can quickly create a more modern take on the classic wreath:
I filled the glass bottles with some holly, ivy, hazelnuts and baubles, sticking to the traditional red and green.
Well-organised Germans will have their traditional Christmas breads and biscuits already baked, in time for the countless advent coffee and tea parties. Recipes are handed down from generation to generation; sometimes a new one is added, an old one discarded. Most people I know have at least 6 different biscuits on the go: butter biscuits, which are perfect for the little metal cutters, are definitely one of them:
Others include gingerbread, in all its variations, perhaps a Stollen (typical for the North-East of Germany) and little Baumkuchen squares, and definitely Marillenringe, the Austrian version of Jammy Dodgers.
Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing some of our family recipes with you – but I’ll be busily reading up on your Christmas bakery, too, to see if I can find something new to add to my ever-expanding repertoire!