Wednesday, December 10, 2008

German Christmas Traditions... And Cookies!

Obviously, even in German-speaking countries, traditions vary
from family to family, just as in every other country. There are
a few common threads through the Christmas season though, and
I'll share a few of the things our family does that I love.

This is this week's article in "Language Learning Express:"

What Does The Holiday Spirit Feel Like Abroad?

The year-end holidays carry a particular "flavor" with them,
one that affects all senses: traditional holiday dishes,
Christmas carols (in my tradition), decorations, the Christmas
tree, smells of cinnamon and home-baked cookies, and velvety
decorations all around.

If there's one thing that I am very attached to, it's Christmas
tradition. I remember the first time I spent Christmas with my
husband's family in the United States--what a culture shock! I
thought I was pretty familiar with American culture after living
in New York City for six years. Well, I found myself completely
disoriented and feeling out of place because everything felt so
foreign and "wrong."

So if you are in a foreign country over the holidays, make it
easy on yourself and bring just one little reminder from home,
something that embodies the spirit of the holiday for you. Then
dive into what your host country has to offer!

If you're celebrating at home but would like to get a taste of
how your new country does celebrate the holidays, I'd recommend
you do three things:

1. Try a holiday recipe
2. Listen to a holiday CD
3. Participate in a holiday ritual (go to Midnight Mass, light
Hanukkah candles, etc.)

Let's focus on #1 today. I want to share my very favorite kind
of cookie recipe with you.

Haselnussplaetzchen (Hazelnut cookies)

- 250 g sugar (250 g is about 1 cup, or half a pound)
- 250 g butter
- 250 g ground hazelnuts (filberts)
- 250 g all purpose flour
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup apricot or raspberry jam

In a mixing bowl, mix together butter and sugar. Add the egg.
Then add the hazelnut meal and the flour. Knead it into a compact
dough, then let it cool in the fridge for 1-2 hours. If the dough
isn't cold enough when you cut out the cookies, they end up
melting in the oven, and that's no fun! (Can you tell I've done
that?) So make sure that the dough is nice and cold before you
start rolling it out on your counter.

Cut bite-size round shapes with a cookie cutter. Bake them for 15
minutes at 175 - 195 degrees Celsius (that's 350 - 385 degrees
Fahrenheit). They should be dark brown. The darker they are, the
stronger the nutty flavor, but there's a fine line between dark
and burned. Let them cool off on a cooling rack.

Optional: dip one side of each cookie in a plate of sugar while
they're still hot. The sugar will stick to the "outside" of
the cookie.

Once they're cooled off, spread a layer of jam on half of the
cookies and stick the other half on to make a little sandwich.

A little cultural side-story: In Germany, we use a lot of
hazelnuts and almonds in our baking. They're as common as
peanuts are in the U.S. In fact, I remember how at one of the
first Christmas parties I attended in South Carolina, I reached
for a chocolate-covered cookie that looked enticing. What a shock
to my senses to discover upon my first bite that it had a peanut
butter filling! I do like peanuts, but I had never connected
Christmas with peanuts before and it might take me another twenty
years to make that connection. :)

If you're not into baking, you can get some of the German
Christmas cookies online or at specialty stores. Trader Joe's
carries my favorite kind, Lebkuchen, which is a type of ginger
cookie covered with chocolate or sugar glaze. Here are a few
pictures for your cookie orientation, and a few places to get

My Mom always made sure that all the cookies were ready by
December 6th, which is "Nikolaustag" or St. Nicholas Day.
Typically to celebrate this, on the evening of December 5th
children set their shoes outside the window or by the door. If
they have been good, Nikolaus stops by to fill their shoes with
nuts, oranges and little presents. I don't need to tell you that
I was always very excited on Nikolaustag!

Hopefully, you've been a good girl or boy this year and can
expect some treats in your shoes on the morning of the 6th of

© 2008 Nathalie V. Fairbanks

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