I love Christmas in Germany! I loved it from day one, and adopted all the traditions that come with it. Christmas season mainly starts in the kitchen, when enthusiastic cooks take out their old family recipes and immerse themselves in baking an assortment of amazingly delicious cookies and Lebkuchen (biscuit quite similar to gingerbread). Many also bake their own Christstollen (a rich bread full of nuts, raisins and candied fruits), which should be made ahead of time allowing it to age three to four weeks. If you begin mid December, consider yourself extremely late, especially if you intend to invite people for coffee during this time of the year. Not only that, you don’t want to miss on all the fun competing with who ever has baked the most elaborate cookies in your circle of friends! Once you are at it, nobody can stop you or drag you out of the kitchen! Home decoration won’t come short in German homes either, but it does not include a Christmas tree before the 24th. The Advent wreath with its four candles is the main decoration announcing the beginning of the season, as one candle after another will be lit on the four Sundays before Christmas Eve. And finally the romantic Christmas markets throughout the country, in villages, towns and big cities put young and old in a bright Christmas mood! Strolling through the market, admiring all the dazzling ornaments, handicrafts and artisan works at different stands, enjoying a variety of good food, sipping warm punch and mullet wine will be one of your favourite activities in the four magical weeks before Christmas, especially after some stressful shopping and decision making!
The culmination of the season on Christmas Eve is when the tree is set up, and children open their presents after visiting the Christmas mass. That way, suspense stays in the air until that night, when children can finally admire their own Christmas tree, set for them by Christkindl (Baby Jesus). Their “Santa Claus” pays them a visit on the 6th of December, der Heilige Nikolaus (Saint Nicolas), who would come, praise them and offer them one small gift, nuts and mandarins. A more terrifying figure, Knecht Ruprecht, could appear with him, and reprimand children for their harmless mischiefs during the past year. I must say I haven’t seen a single one for the last 32 years as it looks like Germans have agreed to ignore this disturbing tradition.
Now back to baking: The tradition says you should have your first batch of cookies on the first Advent Sunday of the season. You don’t have to be good at Math to realize that your baking activity should start mid November at the latest. If you think that is too early, and that the cookies won’t be tasty anymore at Christmas, then you have no idea about German Christmas. Germans won’t eat cookies on Christmas Eve; they actually had enough of them during the Advent Season and prefer a creamy dessert or a Sahne Torte (Cake with fresh cream) after their roasted goose or duck on the two festive days of the 25th and 26th of December. The lucky ones like my family and friends always look forward to my Bûche de Noêl, a tradition I brought with me from Lebanon. As much as I value the traditions of my country of adoption, I can’t imagine Christmas without this French Christmas Yule log cake. You might wonder what does a French cake have to do with Lebanese Christmas? Everything! Lebanese are masters at adopting and adapting, everywhere, anywhere! At one point in our history, we met the Bûche, we loved it, we baked it, we excelled at it, and we made it somehow our own!
But we never forget our own traditions for the season. We still cook salikah, our wheat on the 4th of December to celebrate St. Barbara’s Day, and serve it as a sweet porridge with nuts and raisins. We still love our Hareessa, a thick chicken soup with wheat, which is usually served on Christmas Eve. We stuff our turkey with rice, meat and nuts, but we also make it the American way. We sometimes treat ourselves with mighli, a spiced rice pudding dessert garnished with pistachios, pine nuts, walnuts and coconut flakes.
In my home Christmas is a combination of both traditions. I care for both and make sure none of them comes short at any time. I might be putting myself under pressure sometimes, but I still enjoy every minute spent cooking, baking and recreating my newly acquired flavours and aromas as well as the ones from back home.
So let the fun begin on this blog, as I will soon be sharing few of my cherished cookie recipes among other seasonal goodies. Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks!