Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History

Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History

Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History

Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History

Synopsis

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. 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.

Excerpt

Every spiritual experience of the German people since the fourteenth
century is reflected in its way in the history of German Christmas,
sometimes more clearly, sometimes more opaquely, but rarely entirely
unrecognizably.

—Alexander Tille, Die Geschichte der deutschen Weihnacht (1893)

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 German character. The Christmas tree glittering with candles and decorations, a trip to the Christmas market, the mysterious Christmas Eve visit of Father Christmas, feasts of roast goose with red cabbage, the uncanny scent of pine boughs indoors; all were tokens of a specifically national festival that thrilled and fascinated Germans and non-Germans alike. The aura of ancient folk tradition and associations with family love and social harmony lent Christmas sentimental appeal and a sense of historical depth. Yet, as this book shows, German Christmas was never a set of timeless traditions anchored in an authentic folk culture or a deep Germanic past. Rather, the symbols and rituals of Germany’s most popular holiday composed a fluid and permeable sign system, available for appropriation by a variety of competing interests and groups. Each year . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.