German Christmas

I once caught a tree thiiisssss big. It had the most vibrant needle dress, a dashing set of crowning branches and the cutest little stature I’d ever seen. It was positively adorable dressed in all its Christmas balls and bells… Say, why do we decorate evergreens anyway?

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Unfortunately, this was the third year I didn’t make it home to Canada for Christmas, but luckily, I have an amazing branch of the family located in Germany! They wanted to show my partner and I the sights and sounds of Christmas in the fatherland so before I could mournfully croak Silent Night we were off!!

And wow! Though my dreams of a white Christmas weren’t on Santa’s list we did get to try a bunch of delightful traditions for the very first time!

Like hunting down the perfect Christmas tree! Yay!

We all squished into two cars, drove to a bonafide tree farm, nabbed a cart and went shopping among the freshest Christmas trees I’d ever laid eyes on!

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I mean, heck! When I was growing up we had two plastic trees that we jigsawed together each December and stuffed back into their respective boxes each January. While the kid tree was modest and often sagged under all the gaudy ornaments we’d collected over the years, the living room tree was a beast of a contraption. It had such a full, tall body it could have been named the Sarah Burge of coniferous trees.

My mom absolutely adores decorating it. And our cats absolutely adore it too. As a nesting ground.

I remember fondly how the living room became a war zone during the holidays. Any cat found in the tree would be shot on sight with a water gun and boy, did they scatter quick when the first squirt hit their faces!

But here we were. Another year, another continent and another concept.

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So how exactly does one pick out the perfect tree?

Honestly? We had no idea. We just went with the quirky, two-horned tree we nicknamed Reindeer.

But intially we did go along with the lyrics of the old German song O’ Tannenbaum (O Christmas Tree) when we tried to spot the best-dressed tree of the bunch. We checked needle density and symmetry. We compared the different breeds. We were on the look-out for the James Bond of the forest.

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Why are these trees so special?

The key, as with most things celebrated during cold winter climates, is the coniferous trees’ ability to remain green after most plants have withered away for the season. Think about Viscum Album–a parasitic plant which plunders nutrients and water from its host and uses them to stay green over the winter. You know it as mistletoe (that clutch of leaves people have to kiss under if they cross paths below it). It has been associated with fertility and vitality since the Druids!

Similarly pine, spruce and fur trees invoke a feeling of strength and timelessness (evergreens!). They stand against the cold, while deciduous trees fade away.

For a mix of pagan religions in the early European nations, evergreen boughs could protect against malicious spirits and marked a return to the bounties of spring. Often they were associated with the recuperation of sun gods.

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These kids are holding a whole lot’ta power then.

Why do we drag an entire tree into your house and decorate it then?

It’s thought 16th century German Christians were the instigators of bringing trees indoors, but as for who decorated their tree first… it’s a contest between the citizens of Latvia and Estonia apparently!

Yeah! Though the two countries continue to argue over who hosted the first tree with bling, the group said to have begun the tradition is not contested. Known as the Brotherhood of Black Hats (or Blackheads) these men–thought to be a guild of unmarried merchants–would gather each year, decorate a tree, dance around it and then burn it all to the ground.

Amusingly this guild was set up in two cities, Riga of Latvia and Tallinn of Estonia, and the documents don’t specify which place hosted the very first event. The result is their respective media featuring a bit of good-natured jousting over the subject and a hope the claim will draw some extra Christmas tourism!

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As for the Germans, well their claim of Martin Luther, a 16th century protestant reformer, being the first to decorate a tree around the winter solstice occurs several decades too late. Still, the story is sweet. It’s said Luther was awestruck by the sight of stars twinkling between the evergreens as he walked through a forest in northern Germany one evening. He was so inspired by what he saw he tried to replicate the experience in his home by fixing candles to the family tree.

So there you have it! The Estonians and Latvians claim they decorated their trees first and then the Germans brought the whole thing into the living room! The latter also has the title of carrying the tradition to countries all around the world when many Germans emigrated to other nations!

Speaking of carrying, how did you get that tree back to the house in the car?

How thoughtful of you to ask me… me. Hah!

First off we were given saws so we could cut through the tree’s trunk and a cart to help us carry the thing back to the farm entrance! Once we’d felled and loaded our tree-of-choice we rolled it over to a line of weird-looking contraptions.

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And then my uncle did the following:

I was busting a gut laughing over the sight of this poor tree getting stuffed through this tube thing, maybe you’ll find it funny too!

I hope you had a wonderful holiday this year and found yourself lucky enough to spend it with awesome people!

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If you want to learn more about Riga’s special Christmas tree celebrations you should join Heather Hall from Ferreting Out The Fun as she explores the town and its fantastic Christmas Tree Trail!

Auf Wiedersehen till next time!

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Tree Trapping Tips

Budget: Depends on the tree size/farm.

Age group: Bring everyone!

Clothes: According to the weather. Keep in mind you will get sappy, sticky hands so no nice clothes!

Culture: Depends on your group really. Some people are probably pretty hardcore while others are just a travel troupe of goofs.

Food: There was Glühwein (mulled wine), Grünkohl (kale) and delicious sausages. German sausages are always delicious.

Transport: You’ll need someone with a car.

Time: Christmas season!

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