A German-Style Christmas in Missoula

By SILKE JAUCK

Many of my Missoula friends ask me about our German Christmas traditions and if we celebrate Christmas “German-style.”

People who have been to Germany in December talk very romantically and with watery eyes about the famous Christmas markets in cities like Nuremburg, Dresden, and Munich.

At the beginning of November, our family starts baking Christmas cookies and we store them in tin containers to rest. One of our favorites is Vanillekipferl.

Sometimes I can’t find all ingredients needed in town, but places like the Good Food Store are a good source for quality ingredients. I always thought teaching a baking class for German Christmas cookies would be fun and if there’s enough interest, you may see a class next year at the Life Long Learning Center.

Each of the four Sundays before Christmas, we celebrate Advent and I make a special Advent wreath from winter greens with four red candles. This tradition dates back to 1839 when the first one was made out of a wagon wheel in Hamburg, Germany.

The first Sunday, we light the first candle and each following Sunday an additional one. If Christmas happens to be on a Sunday, then this will also be the fourth Advent and lighting of the fourth candle.

We have a Christmas incense burner shaped like a man smoking a pipe with little scented cones for the children to light. They like to point out that this guy is not a good example to little children about smoking.

Silke's traditional Christmas Advent wreath.

Silke’s traditional Christmas Advent wreath.

The evening before December 1, we hang up the chocolate filled Advent calendars. In our family, we use refillable ones. They are easy to make and give you the freedom to choose how to fill them.

On the evening of December 5, the children need to clean a boot and put it in front of their door. At night, Saint Nicholas (‘Nikolaus’) arrives and fills the boots with sweets, nuts, oranges, apples, and a small fir branch. If you’re bad or have misbehaved you may see a piece of coal!

And of course, there is the Christmas Stollen, the traditional German Christmas cake. When I grew up, every family had its own recipe and we all made this labor-intensive dough and brought it to the village baker to have it baked in his wood-fired bread oven.

Two weeks ago, I stopped by the Black Cat Bake Shop and it was my lucky day as I discovered their wonderful and classic European Christmas Stollen. With my mouth still full of his delicious Stollen, I congratulated the owner, Jack, on his culinary masterpiece. He mentioned he is thinking about about making German Lebkuchen and I will surely remind him next year.

How about the tree? Traditionally, the parents set up the tree the evening before Christmas Eve. People usually hang up mouth-blown glass pieces, silver or colored, and white or colored lights. I prefer carved wooden decorations from the Erzgebirge region of Germany, straw stars, and wax candles.

Did you know that people used to hang their Christmas tree from the ceiling beam, sometimes even upside down? Living back in the States, I noticed people set up their Christmas tree at the beginning of December. Our family liked it so much, that we quickly adapted this as a new family tradition.

Merry Christmas, fröhliche Weinachten, y Feliz Navidad!

Silke

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Check out Silke’s other posts about walks and hikes in and around Missoula or visit her Make it Missoula blog archive.

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Silke Jauck is a German native and Missoulian by choice. She and her family have packed and unpacked their suitcases and moving boxes in four continents and have finally settled in Missoula and called it home.

She lives with her husband, three daughters, and a dwarf rabbit in the Target Range neighborhood. Silke is the publisher of Friendship Book, a made-in-Montana keepsake and activity book for children ages 6-12. She also has a blog about life hacks at Silke Good Ideas, and you can visit her Make it Missoula blog archive.