Contributors: Grete Schiefenhövel, Gabriele Braun, Hermann van Boemmel and Wulf Schiefenhövel
Christmas was, and to a large extent still is, the family feast for German families, when different generations of the family try to come together. As for all such special occasions worldwide, food plays a very important role in the celebrations.
Traditionally, Christmas cooking started at the beginning of Advent, when several cakes and cookies would have been baked. Some of the cakes, for example the Stollen cakes, improve with keeping and so should be made no less than two weeks before Christmas. Variations of these cakes and cookies include Lebkuchen, also called Lebzelte, (a kind of honey bread), Pfefferkuchen (pepper cakes) and Honigkuchen (honey cakes), and all these have certain similarities: all contain especially rich ingredients and often require a considerable investment of time in their preparation. Once baked, these are saved until Christmas and may be kept in tin containers, some of which like the recipes may have been passed down from mothers and grandmothers for a few generations. Also baked for consumption at Advent was the Adventszopf (Advent plait) and Bratäpfel (baked apples).
On Christmas Eve, 'Heiliger Abend' (literally: holy evening), there was traditionally a rather simple dinner, probably because there were so many last minute preparations to carry out, like finishing handmade presents, decorating the Christmas tree, etc., and there was not enough time for the women to prepare a complicated meal. In the Siegerland, a hilly area with large forests and little industry, situated halfway between Cologne and Frankfurt, a typical, Christmas Eve dish, which was easy to prepare in advance, was Fleischwurst mit Kartoffelsalat (pork sausage and potato salad). In other areas of Germany, similar dishes containing one of the many kinds of German sausages and potatoes would be served on this day. For example, similarly simple and with inexpensive ingredients was Schlodderkappes (white cabbage stew).
Before or after this meal, the family would assemble around the lit and decorated Christmas tree to sing Christmas carols. Then, maybe at midnight, they would wish everyone 'Frohe Weihnachten!' (Happy Christmas) and exchange gifts. Among the gifts, carefully chosen for each person, there would usually be some edible items, especially good quality chocolate, etc., which not everyone can resist trying immediately. Part of the tree decoration would be sweets and biscuits, fruits and chocolates. These, however, should only be eaten when the tree is taken away at a ceremony called 'Weinachtsbaum Plündern' (plundering the Christmas tree).
Christmas Day itself is traditionally the day for a big family lunch. One of the dishes which were common until some decades ago, before turkey and other kinds of meat replaced the goose (considered too fat by many these days), was gefüllte Gans (stuffed goose). The goose might be served with rohe Kartofelklösse (raw potato dumplings) or plain boiled potatoes and Rotkohl or Rotkraut (cooked red cabbage) and some sweet compote or sauce. Another main dish associated with Christmas day is Gebackener Karpfen (baked carp). Although Christmas Day is when many of the previously baked cakes and cookies would appear, one cake, the Christstollen or Dresdener Stollen (a cake rich in fruit, peel and nuts) is particularly associated with Christmas because some say that the Stollen represents the cradle or manger of the baby Jesus. On the other hand, the Greek word, στηλη (stele), and the old high-German stollo are based on an extinct Indo-European word meaning to make stand. Stollen originally would thus be a post or pillar, the form of which has led to naming these round, longish cakes Stollen.
Finally, we provide a recipe for New Year's Day, Wildschweinbraten (roast wild boar).
* (c)Copyright 2008 Wulf Schiefenhövel, Grete Schiefenhövel, Gabriele Braun, Hermann van Boemmel, Helen Macbeth. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute copies of this Introduction to recipes for Germany solely for the purposes of non-profit domestic use or non-profit educational purposes in either case provided that copies are distributed at or below cost and that the author's source and copyright notice are included on each copy.