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International holiday traditions



Christmas is a holiday full of traditions, but how do you balance traditions from two countries? International Community has asked Peter M. Boenish about traditions from his home country Germany, and whether he is familiar with any of the Danish traditions.


Photographs: iStock

Text: Aarhus international community


Merry Christmas to all of you from all of us at International Community!

What does a typical Christmas in Germany look like?

In principle, it’s very similar to Denmark, although the Catholic south of Germany, where I am from, has different traditions to the protestant North of the country. It’s much more visual and embodied down south: there would be real-life nativity scenes on the main town square, often on each of the four advent weekends before Christmas. And in every home, under the Christmas tree, we also would have a miniature Weihnachtskrippe with very ornate and expensive figures, certainly no toys, which were often passed from one generation to the next and real treasures in craftsmanship. But for all of us in Germany, like in Denmark, the “Holy Night” of December 24 is the main event, when the Christ child (Christkind), and not Santa Claus, brings presents.


What are some traditions that are important in Germany?

AIn the rural parts of Bavaria, towards the Alps, where I grew up, many age-old traditions are still alive, especially around Christmas. I particularly remember the “Raunächte,“ the twelve nights that follow Christmas, as really special and actually more exciting than Christmas. During these darkest and coldest nights, the Perchten would visit every night, some evil spirits – usually the village youth wearing spectacular and often very old, handcrafted wooden masks - who rummage through the streets making loud noise. In the old days, people would bring hot coals with scents and spices to all rooms, to keep the spirits away. Nowadays, we would have a candle in the windows burning all through the night. Only when we please the Perchten, will the good spirits eventually prevail, and the nights shall then get shorter again, and the light and warmth shall come back. In my youth, many of my generation all over Bavaria and Austria really took to this old tradition and revived it, as it chimed with the spirit of punk, rebellion, and opposition in the 1970s. So, some Percht spirits all of sudden began to play on E-Guitars, and their hair became quite colourful.


What type of food do you usually eat?

On Holy Night, there is typically just a light meal (usually potato salat or kraut and sausages, that’s why all German Christmas markets sell these) as we are all busy waiting for the Christ Child. Then, for the big Christmas feast on the 25th, in Bavaria, we would usually have a Christmas goose. However, most of our family have turned vegetarian – yet, we still enjoy the Knödel (dumplings) and Blaukraut (red cabbage) that usually come with the goose.


Who will you be spending your Christmas with?

Over Christmas, we will go back to Bavaria to spend the holidays with our families. It’s just the time of the year to go back and see everyone at home for a few days, especially now, as some new babies are being added somewhere in the family virtually every year.


Will you incorporate some of the Danish traditions into your Christmas?

We might give the dancing a try, the many young children in the family would certainly be in favour! Personally, I’d fancy having a go at trying risalamande, I’m a big fan of desserts anyway.