I’m loving my German-Weihnachtszeit. Not that I thought I wouldn’t – Christmastime is magical everywhere – but I was a little apprehensive about how I’d handle another holiday away from home and one with traditions that are great, but a little less familiar. Happy to report that two weeks in and all is well.
Germany in December is eiskalt – the kind of cold that sticks to you and you feel down to the core – and it’s windy, making parkas, mittens, and chapped lips everyday accessories. As much as you want to just stay inside, wrapped in blankets in your heated, candlelit room, you can’t because outside it’s magical. Even though it gets really dark really early, whether you’re in the Oberstadt or at the Weihnachtsmarkt, everything is festive and glowing. Storefront windows, the advent calendar on the old town hall, the lights strung up around the Christmas markets.
These first two weeks of December have been chock-full of Christmas traditions, new and familiar. Our palm tree has been transformed into a Christmas tree and, after discovering the ways of German decorating, the room is now covered in Tannengrün. There’s an impressive pile of candy from Saint Nikolaus on the floor and an Adventkerze that I try to remember to light each Sunday. There are Christmas lights galore, and Glühwein and Michael Bublé have become key ingredients for any get-together in the apartment, even if it’s just the five of us sitting in the kitchen.
Luckily, in Germany the spirit of Christmas is seemingly impossible to escape. But, even though that’s the case, Christmas wouldn’t have felt like Christmas if we hadn’t done a little cookie baking.
Christmastime in Virginia conjures up images of our always beautiful tree and the ornaments we made back in elementary school, riding around to see the best light displays, collections of Christmas cards siting on the table (or unopened boxes of them if you’re my mom), Shirley Dietz’s snow-people, an unopened gingerbread house that me and my little brother never get around to building.
But one of my strongest associations with Christmas is ginger cookies. My mom would deny it, but her ginger cookies really are famous among friends, family, and all those lucky enough to receive a gift-wrapped tin of them. A few times every December my brothers and I help my mom make and bake batch after batch of ginger cookies, not minding the hour-long commitment it ends up being because we’re allowed to snack as we go.
If I’m being honest, I’ll miss those cookies, but it’s missing out on this special time with my mom and brothers that hurts a little bit more. Armed with that feeling and this all-consuming holiday spirit I’ve had going on since Thanksgiving, I was excited when someone suggested a night of cookie baking (and Glühwein, naturally) in the apartment.
Since ginger cookies aren’t a thing here, we chose the Spritzgebäcke as our German Christmas cookies of choice for their simplicity and endless decorating opportunities. 250 grams of flour, 60 grams of sugar, 125 grams of butter, 1 egg, a pinch of salt. Each ingredient is piled on top of the other in a mound on the table. On the count of drei flour flies. I’m not sure if this is the typical German way of making Christmas Spritzgebäcke, but I didn’t question it.
I was far from the fastest, but who knew speed-kneading dough was so difficult! At the end of eight rounds of races we were left with sore arms and way too many cookies to bake. Seriously, we’re still eating these cookies two weeks later.
As hard as it is to spend another holiday (and my second Christmas) away from home, here’s to hoping the rest of my German Christmastime is just as fun. Hopefully in the next week I can fit in a visit to Köln and an attempt to (help) chop down the Christmas tree. And with just a couple weeks left of Christmas markets, I’ve got to get busy upping my Käsewurst count!