Why Germans are so good at Christmas‘Tis the season when it becomes obvious yet again: Germans just do Christmas better. If Christmas were a team sport, the Germans would be the tinsel-covered, carol-singing, fairy-light-swinging champions of the world. And that is not a new observation. As one British travel writer pointed out in 1911: “There is no country in the world where Christmas is so intensely ‘Christmassy’ as in the Fatherland.”
A British expat living in Berlin today agrees: “Christmas in Germany is as Christmas in the UK used to be, 40 years ago. Back home, everything is based on Christmas day. The only rituals around it involve shopping before and after.”
In Germany, by contrast, shopping is secondary, and the festive spirit stretches over a whole month, and sometimes longer. Feeling cosy indoors; drinking hot, spiced alcohol; enjoying colorful lights on a gloomy afternoon – the German Weihnachten is about all that and more.
The Nazis attacked those they saw as enemies – Jews, Communists and Socialists – for violating the sanctity of Christmas.A lot of the world’s contemporary Christmas traditions were invented in Germany. The Christmas tree is probably the country’s most successful seasonal export. Germans also made the first glass Christmas-tree baubles and the first tinsel. Many of the most popular Christmas carols have German roots. Even Santa Claus has German ancestry. He was first popularized in drawings by an American political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, between 1863 and 1886 in Harper’s Weekly. Nast, however, was a German immigrant and his drawings of Santa, inspired by his European childhood, combined two figures from the German fest: Saint Nicholas in his bishop’s robes and the woolly-bearded pagan god Odin, as he rides through the night on a wild mid-winter hunt.
“The German version of the holiday fused pagan and Christian beliefs and had ‘deep roots in primordial German soil’,” writes Joseph Perry, a professor of modern German history at Georgia State University and author of “Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History.” These national idiosyncrasies in the German style of celebrating became important in the 19th century, with the rise of romanticism and nationalism. “Germany’s late unification in 1871 created an urgent need for some sort of celebration that might appeal to broad yet diverse groups,” Mr Perry told Handelsblatt Global. Christmas was that celebration. That’s how it became “the most German of German holidays.”
That is also why Christmas was useful to the Nazis in the 20th century. They “could build on the scholarly literature that cast Christmas as particularly German,” Mr. Perry explains. They also attacked those they saw as enemies – Jews, Communists and Socialists – for violating the sanctity of Christmas. The Nazis placed great emphasis on a truly “authentic” celebration.