Christmas in Germany

Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 416
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    Christmas in Germany
    Book Description:

    For poets, priests, and politicians--and especially ordinary Germans--in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the image of the loving nuclear family gathered around the Christmas tree symbolized the unity of the nation at large. German Christmas was supposedly organic, a product of the winter solstice rituals of pagan "Teutonic" tribes, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and the age-old customs that defined German character. Yet, as Joe Perry argues, Germans also used these annual celebrations to contest the deepest values that held the German community together: faith, family, and love, certainly, but also civic responsibility, material prosperity, and national belonging.This richly illustrated volume explores the invention, evolution, and politicization of Germany's favorite national holiday. According to Perry, Christmas played a crucial role in public politics, as revealed in the militarization of "War Christmas" during World War I and World War II, the Nazification of Christmas by the Third Reich, and the political manipulation of Christmas during the Cold War. Perry offers a close analysis of the impact of consumer culture on popular celebration and the conflicts created as religious, commercial, and political authorities sought to control the holiday's meaning. By unpacking the intimate links between domestic celebration, popular piety, consumer desires, and political ideology, Perry concludes that family festivity was central in the making and remaking of public national identities.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0494-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Introduction Germany’s Favorite Holiday
    (pp. 1-11)

    Germans across generations would have concurred with philosopher and literary scholar Alexander Tille when he described the close connections between Christmas and the German soul. Tille and his contemporaries — professors and poets, priests and politicians — recognized that Christmas was an international phenomenon, the most important festival in what they called Western Christendom. At the same time, they believed that there was something particularly German about the holiday. “German Christmas,” they believed, was organic and unique, a synthesis of the winter solstice rituals of primeval Teutonic tribes, the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus, and the age-old customs that defined...

  5. 1 Scripting a National Holiday
    (pp. 13-64)

    IN 1815 CAROLINE VON HUMBOLDT, wife of Wilhelm von Humboldt, the enlightened educator, philosopher, and Prussian diplomat, set up Christmas trees in her parlor on Unter den Linden, the main thoroughfare in the Prussian capital of Berlin. Caroline described the scene and the family’s Christmas Eve celebration in letters to Wilhelm, who was in Frankfurt to negotiate territorial realignments in the aftermath of Napoleon’s defeat. “On both ends of a long table, two small Christmas trees burn brightly with lit candles,” Caroline wrote, trying to include her husband in the festivities, however far away he might be. “The Countess Dübin...

  6. 2 Contradictions in the Christmas Mood
    (pp. 65-92)

    CELEBRATIONS SUCH AS CHRISTMAS, sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies believed, could heal the fractures in the German body politic by recovering a sense of authentic Gemeinschaft (community) in the midst of an alienated modern Gesellschaft (society). His thoughts on the “belongingness” created during festivities concurred with mainstream holiday scripts, which cast German Christmas as a universal Christian celebration of family, folk, and fatherland. Tönnies could base his conclusions on rich empirical evidence: the nineteenth century was a time of intense cultural invention, which added a number of new festivals and traditions to the annual cycle of celebration. To be sure, the feelings...

  7. 3 Christmas in Enemy Territory
    (pp. 93-137)

    ON THE CLEAR, STARLIT NIGHT OF 24 December 1914, British rifleman Graham Williams looked over the top of his trench on the front in Flanders and saw that “lights began to appear along the German parapet.” Startled, he looked more closely and determined that these “were evidently make-shift Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burnt steadily in the still frosty air!” During the night, no shots were fired; instead, German and British soldiers in opposing trenches traded carols, and Williams heard the strains of “Silent Night, Holy Night” for the first time. On the following Christmas Day, several hundred...

  8. 4 Under the Sign of Kauflust
    (pp. 139-188)

    IN 1893 IT WAS STILL EASY for the editors ofDie Reklame, one of Germany’s first professional advertising journals, to marvel at the opportunities created by the commercialization of Christmas. An expanding industrial economy had placed an array of mass-produced goods on Germany’s store shelves, and modern marketing techniques incited waves of seasonalKauflust, the “urge to buy” that moved crowds of Germans into the stores and streets in search of holiday gifts.¹ Things looked different some thirty-five years later in the waning years of the Weimar Republic. Germany had barely recovered from war, revolution, and economic crisis. In November...

  9. 5 Christmas in the Third Reich
    (pp. 189-238)

    NATIONAL SOCIALIST IDEOLOGUES like Frau Dr. Auguste Reber-Gruber, director of the women’s division of the National Socialist Teachers’ Union, were well aware that the familiar imagery of candle-lit trees, snowy landscapes, and regeneration made Christmas a powerful vehicle for naturalizing a radical political culture rooted in a mythic national past. Just as French Jacobins and Russian Bolsheviks transformed their festival cultures in attempts to shape new revolutionary citizens, so National Socialists redesigned Germany’s holidays to conform to the state’s racial and ideological agendas.¹ The Nazi intelligentsia clearly believed that the family rituals performed around the Christmas tree engendered an emotional...

  10. 6 Ghosts of Christmas Past
    (pp. 239-282)

    “BUT IT’S CHRISTMAS, PEACE CHRISTMAS!” cries war criminal Ferdinand Brückner at the end of Wolfgang Staudte’sThe Murderers Are Among Us, the first feature film released in Germany after the Second World War. Produced in 1946 by the East German studio DEFA, this exemplary rubble film tells the story of Dr. Hans Mertens, a traumatized veteran who at the start of the film believes that “mankind is no longer worth saving.” As he moves through the ruins of postwar Berlin, Mertens slowly recovers his sense of self-worth. He proposes marriage to his companion Susannah and begins to lead a normal...

  11. Conclusion The Nation around the Christmas Tree
    (pp. 283-290)

    IN DECEMBER 1996, when I was doing the initial research for this book, I took a job as one of the 500 Father Christmases working for the “Weihnachts mann Campaign” organized by the Technical University in Berlin. On Christmas Eve, I paid “surprise” visits to five different families who had preordered the services of this secular saint. In full costume—red cloak, fake beard, black boots, and burlap sack—I bicycled through the district of Kreuzberg, filled my sack with presents left outside apartment doors by enthusiastic parents, announced my presence with a loud knock, and joined in the festivities....

  12. Notes
    (pp. 291-338)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 339-372)
  14. Index
    (pp. 373-399)