JYAN Blog

Ashley Bradford on the Christian Side of Christmas

Munich is the capital of Bavaria, a state in southern Germany known for a unique culture and people who are famous for their lederhosen and Catholicism. Much like the United States, in Germany there is a stereotype of a deeply religious south. Even after spending some time this summer in Trier, itself a rather religious city, I was notified by the locals that Munich would be "sehr Katholisch," very Catholic, in comparison. Personally I have not been shocked by the wave of religious sentiment; however, as the winter holidays approach, I have observed a difference in the spirit of Christmas.
Christmas in Bavaria is, well, Christian. I realize that Christmas is technically a religious holiday in the United States as well; however, the public spirit of the holiday is much more commercial. The hero of the holiday is Santa Claus, a figure whose image is plastered on cards, knitted on sweaters, and affectionately painted into store windows. This is not to say that religion does not play a role in the American celebration of Christmas, but rather to comment that this religiosity is often confined to churches and family traditions. 

In Munich the Christian side of Christmas is much more visible. Advent candles, angels, and crucifixes are hung in store windows and in the small stalls of the Christkindlmärkte, literally Christ child markets. Though Sankt Nikolaus visits the German kinder in December, on Christmas Eve it is the notably nameless Weihnachtsmann, or Christmas man, who appears. Does this just mean that Santa Claus was less successful in conquering the German markets? 

It seems that the public celebration of Christmas is more religious in nature, but somehow politics get pulled into the festivities as well. Recently while walking between classes at the university, I saw a set of advent candles in a window that had been decorated with the faces of German politicians from the CDU—the Christian Democratic Union—such as Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Christian Wulff. I found this amusing, if not perplexing, but after all Christ is in the name of both the political party and the holiday. 

After spending the day with a friend and her German relatives, I thought about the youngest member of our party. We had visited several Christmas markets of Munich, including a medieval themed one with giant horses, magicians, jesters, and combat demonstrations straight out of the Middle Ages. Although Vincenz, age 5, matched my expectations by repeatedly trying to eat as much snow, regardless of its color, as possible, he did not make a single mention of Nikolaus or the Weihnachtsmann. In contrast I vividly recall my 5 year old American cousins mentioning Santa in every other sentence during the month of December. 

This is not to say that German children are deprived of any of the wonders that American children look forward to on Christmas. In fact, I am rather envious of St. Nicholas Day on which the children wake up to find their shoes filled with sweets and surprises. I also find myself wondering if the Christian side of Christmas is so omnipresent in other parts of Germany.
 
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