Copyright © 1998 Charles Hofmann & Karin nee Hofmann Ruark

Christmas traditions prepared by my cousin Karin nee Hofmann Ruark, born in Bernhardsweiler, Württemberg Germany. This is the ancestral home of my Great-grandfather Georg Martin Hofmann and is located only a few kilometers from the wonderful walled city of Dinkelsbühl.

Advent: A time beginning four Sundays before Christmas to handcraft gifts, bake (for the many guests that would visit during the Christmas Holidays), sing, and sit around with the light of the Adventkranz (Christmas wreath). The Adventkranz was self-made of "Tannenzwiege", pine or spruce branches, with 4 red candles that were lit the afternoon of each Advent Sunday. Sometimes this was hanging from the ceiling and other times in the center of the table.

Advent Kalender: Karin sent one for us to use this season. The Advent Kalender is like the one she sent, and is used to give the feeling of only 24 days waiting for the 24th when we have the big celebration. It has little doors in random display so the children had to search for the next number starting with 1 on the 1st of December. You only have one door a day and you find something behind each one to sweeten the waiting period. She said they normally only had one for all 4 of the children (2 girls and 2 boys), so the uneven numbers were for girls for example. One being an uneven number was of course 1st as well, so now we see how it works.

Nikolaus: (December 6th) In our kids time (after WWII) in Bernhardsweiler and in Mom’s time (between the 2 big wars), we didn’t celebrate Nikalaus Tag. Later in Stuttgart, we put our shoes in front of the door at the night of the 5th and the next morning they were filled with little gifts. This then left a big task for "Knecht Ruprecht" on Christmas. Nowadays, people don’t do a lot on Christmas, but instead they have a person play Nikolaus the same way we had "Knecht Ruprecht" on Chistmas Day, even using the same poem starting on the afternoon of the 24th. (Poem is included at the end of this discussion) About 17:00, (5 p.m.) (in the old version of Christmas celebration) Knecht Ruprecht with a "Sack und Ruk" (sack of twigs carried over his shoulder to beat naughty kids) accompanied by "Christkind" (Young woman with blond hair and a white dress with golden decorations). He would ring a bell and announce their coming. You would open the door, and Knecht Ruprecht and sometimes Christkind would accompany him in reciting the poem, and then would ask how you had behaved. You were supposed to say one prayer and poem, then the kids could do more. Sometimes they would play their flute, sing, or other nice things (I assume to try to impress both Knecht Ruprecht how good they had been, and maybe influence a better or more gifts from Christkind). The basic prayer was: "Ich bin Klein, mein Herz is rein, Soll meinand drin wohnen als Jesus allein". The basic Poem was: "Christkind komen in unser Haus, leer Dein goldenes Säckchen aus, Stell es mitten auf den tisch, daß man weiß, das Christtag ist." The parents would usually give some hints before, so Knecht Ruprecht would do the punishing and then Christkind would give the gifts. They both went thourgh the complete village.

About 19:00 (7 p.m.) we would all go to church, where ususally there was a "Knippenspeil". This was done mostly by the children but some adults played parts as well. The parts for the christmas story included shepards, the 3 kings, sheep, stars, angels, Josef, Mary, Jesus (as a doll, hardly to be seen in a cradle "Knippe" (old fashioned). There were a lot of Christmas songs sung during the performance. Usually one narrator (most often the Pfarrer) would read the Lukas – Evangelium (The Christmas Story recorded in the Gospel of Luke) between the scenes.

Christmas Tag: After the performances at the church on "Weihnachtsabend" (Christmas Eve), everybody went home and the children had to go to bed !!!! We never slept though as we were filled with so much excitement. During that time (!!!), the christmas tree was brought in (by the parents), decorated, lit and the gifts displayed beneath it. Then the Christmas bell was rung and the kids were allowed to come out of their dark room into the "Good Room" where the only light was coming from the tree! (WOW !!). More songs were sung and then the presents could be opened. Usually there was only coffee or milk and cake to eat. The "big meals" were on the 25th and 26th, after you went to church each day. For us that meal was "Sauerbraten" (meat that had been flavored for some days in yogurt, sour milk and spices (my favorite) or rabbit, or goose. Some people had "Krapfen", a fish, but we never (had this fish).

In my mothers youth (Karin’s mother), the 24th through 26th was strictly for the close family. The kids would have special toys like the doll house, puppet carriages, special "nice" puppets, etc. that were only brought out on Christmas days and they could play with them till the 6th of January, when the tree was discarded. This is very simular to the electric train I recall we had going around our Christmas tree when we were very young children in the 1940s here in America. It was only used during the Christmas season and then saved till the next year. Back to Karin – Only when they were "very good", they could play a little longer. The extended family would visit between the 27th and the 5th of January only.

Later in Stuttgart in the 1960s, we changed the routine. (As most people do now): at around 3 or 4 p.m. Dad would set up the tree and put the (now electrical) candles on the tree. It was our task to put the decorations on, while Mom prepared a lite supper. She then did the finishing, Daddy adjusted the lights again. (a never ending task, because the twigs started to hang and he wanted them really straight) We ate and went to church, then there was some singing, presents were opened and the rest of the night we tried out all the new toys and games. Nowadays the family visits on the 25th and 26th . It’s I think like Thanksgiving Holiday for you in America. People with grown children nowadays often "flee the hectic" by flying to a place in the sun and trying to avoid the family cluster.

Copyright © 1998 Charles Hofmann & Karin nee Hofmann Ruark

 

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