By Tara V. Kohlenberg —
You might think it too early to speak of Christmas, but Halloween is over, Main Plaza is decked out in lights and we are now enjoying Wurstfest, the Ten-Day Salute to Sausage! Can Christmas be far behind? I think not. So, in keeping with the Sophienburg Museum & Archives’ mission to share our history, here is a look at some of the most popular German Christmas traditions and how they have carried over to current day New Braunfels.
Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ. The four weeks leading up to Christmas is called Advent, which serves as a time of anticipation and preparation for the birth and coming of Christ. In Germany you will often see Advent wreaths (Adventskranz). The tradition of Advent wreaths was begun by German Lutherans in the 16th century. The wreath is made of four candles set down in a base of pine branches, dried flowers and Christmas ornaments. Here in New Braunfels, Advent has traditionally been celebrated by Lutheran, Catholic and Protestant denominations, but is being seen more in other denominations now as well. Each Sunday in Advent, which begins November 27 this year, a candle will be lit on the wreath, lighting one candle every Sunday until all are lit. Sometimes, a fifth candle will be lit on Christmas Eve.
The Advent calendar (Adventskalendar) is the countdown to Christmas for German children. Every day for the four weeks before Christmas, a window in the advent calendar is opened to reveal a poem, candy or a small gift. Advent calendars flood shops across Germany during this season. Here is New Braunfels, Advent calendars can be found at Sophie’s Shop at New Braunfels’ Weihnachtsmarkt.
St Nikolaus Day (Sankt Nikolaus Tag), also called the Feast of Saint Nikolaus, observed on 6 December, is the feast day of Saint Nicholas of Myra. It is a favorite holiday with German children. St. Nikolaus is not the jolly, old, bearded Santa that we know. He is a little gruffer, taking more interest in the children behaving and learning their prayers. On the night of December 5, children clean and polish their boots and leave them outside the door before going to sleep. Next morning, they find their shoes filled with nuts, candy, and small gifts from St Nikolaus. Here is New Braunfels, children hang stockings. St. Nikolaus visits the Sophienburg Museum on December 5, to find out if the children have been good. Call the Sophienburg to RSVP for your family now.
Some of the most wonderful things associated with Christmas in Germany are the Christmas markets. (Weihnachtsmarkt). The origins of outdoor Christmas markets can be traced back to the German-speaking part of Europe in the Middle Ages. The opening of most European Christmas markets coincides with the beginning of the celebration of Advent in late November or early December. A few thousand Christmas markets are held all over Germany each year. The sights, sounds and smells are unforgettable.
Stollen, Lebkuchen and Glühwein, the foods & drink that soothe the longing for German Christmas treats, can be found at the markets. Stollen is a traditional German Christmas pastry. More like a bread, it is made with dried fruits, nuts, and spices and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Lebkuchen, another special German Christmas treat, resembles gingerbread. It is made with honey, spices and nuts. The Christmas season is not complete without a steaming cup of Glühwein, a necessity for warding off the winter cold chill. In New Braunfels, Stollen and gingerbread are sold at the markets more than Lebkuchen. Likewise, Glühwein is not served as often as Wassail.
Here in Texas, our Christmas is rarely cold. Or snowy. And it has been known to rain. In fact, we can wear short sleeves and flip flops well into December, but that doesn’t stop us from having a Weihnachtsmarkt. In New Braunfels, our Weihnachtsmarkt was born of the need for a major fundraiser to benefit the Sophienburg Museum and Archives and the idea of sharing the history of the German village Christmas markets here in New Braunfels
The first New Braunfels’ Weihnachtsmarkt opened in December 1989. While desiring the market to resemble those in Germany, directors knew it was wise to stay within the realm of New Braunfels, Texas. Our market is similar in that visitors can do all their Christmas shopping in one location, choosing from a variety of artisans and vendors selling European and American Christmas ornaments and decorations, food, clothing, toys, antiques, jewelry, and more. The biggest difference is that our Weihnachtsmarkt is always held indoors in deference to security needs and possible winter storms with high winds. The bulk of the workload is carried by hundreds of dedicated volunteers. Even though it is a busy time of the year, people willingly volunteer because the event benefits the Sophienburg Museum and Archives.
This year’s Weihnachtsmarkt takes place Friday, November 18 through Sunday, November 20 at the New Braunfels Convention and Civic Center. It really has become much more than a fundraiser. Following on the heels of Wurstfest, the event kicks off holiday shopping in New Braunfels. The glittering Star Party Gala on Thursday night offers VIP Early Weihnachtsmarkt Shopping while enjoying an evening of cocktails, delicious hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction and entertainment. The first holiday party of the season, this is a night that you do not want to miss. On Saturday, children can enjoy a morning full of fun and festivities with Santa himself! Breakfast with Santa offers a classic Christmas experience, featuring a delicious breakfast, arts and crafts, and photos with Santa. He is also available for photos during Market hours on Saturday and Sunday. We hold tightly to our German traditions here in New Braunfels. Come experience Weihnachtsmarkt to see why. www.newbraunfelsweihnachtsmarkt.com
Sources: Sophienburg Museum and Archives