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Frohe Weihnachten: A German Christmas

December 20, 2013
By Beth Christian Broschart - Staff Writer , The Inter-Mountain

Every family has Christmas traditions they share, and it is always fun to learn how families many miles from here celebrate holidays.

In Germany, families gather close, singing carols, exchanging presents, making ornaments and eating sweets.

Elkins resident Maggi Rhudy grew up near Berlin, Germany, and she not only enjoys sharing memories of her experiences - she even teaches classes in the art of making German foil ornaments at the Randolph County Community Arts Center in Elkins.

Article Photos

The Inter-Mountain photos by Beth Christian Broschart
Elkins resident Maggi Rhudy shares memories and traditions of Christmas time in Germany. Rhudy, who was born and raised in Berlin, tells how children use Advent Calendars to count down the days until Christmas Day.

Rhudy told about German decorations she currently has displayed in her home.

"Most homes have a Creche, which is a Nativity set," Rhudy said. "This one is very old and each year I have to glue some of the parts back together. Some of the parts are burnt where the candles singed it,"

Rhudy said her Creche has a special significance.

"There is a story behind this particular Creche," Rhudy said. "There was a wall in Berlin from 1961 to 1989 and we would send things to the East to friends in the Communist Part because they did not get certain things, so we would send them things - like coffee. They could send us things like this that were made in the mountains. It's an old tradition there that people carved in the winter and put things together."

Rhudy said she had a set of hand-carved angels playing all kinds of music as well that came from the east.

"They are falling apart, but they are still making it," Rhudy said. "They are an Angel Orchestra."

Rhudy also shared her hand-carved German smoker. Smokers are significant because the use of incense has been prized by people throughout the world for thousands of years. Incense was often considered a treasured gift in the Middle East, India, Africa and Europe, and has been used used for religious ceremonies and other important events as a way to cleanse the air of evil spirits.

"This one opens up and you put incense in and the smoke comes out of his pipe," Rhudy said.

Rhudy also displayed her ficus plant adorned with many colored foil ornaments and snowflakes.

"I put the ornaments on the plant," Rhudy said. "Each one is different and it depends on how you fold the foil and cut it. There are no patterns. Those you would also hang on the Christmas tree. The young and old get together to make the ornaments.

"I still get the foil in Germany. The foil is a craft foil that has paper in the center. It is very inexpensive if I buy it in Germany."

Rhudy said no one from her hometown put up their tree until Christmas Eve, after attending church services.

"The trees were small and placed on a table," Rhudy said. "They had foil ornaments and real candles for lights."

While in Germany, Rhudy celebrated Advent, the season of preparation before Christmas.

"Everyone puts out an Advent wreath," Rhudy said. "Every Sunday, you light one more candle. While celebrating, you drink coffee and eat lots of cookies, play games and make crafts."

The Advent wreath contains one rose-colored and three purple candles that are lit each Sunday in Advent. The wreath contains greenery such as pine, hemlock and holly.

"I used to teach German," Rhudy said. "I grew up right outside of Berlin. That became Communist in 1953 and then there was a real strain between the Russians and Americans. My mother decided to go to West Berlin but we could not stay there because there were so many professionals that went there. So we went to West Germany through a refugee camp for a while and then we stayed with relatives in the Harz Mountains. It is a very traditional area like here with similar mountains."

Rhudy said one of her aunts lived there.

"It was cozy and nice, and I went to school there for two years," Rhudy said. "Following that, we moved back to Berlin. I came to the United States in 1967."

Rhudy said she remembers the first time she celebrated Christmas.

"I was two," Rhudy said. "The war was over and we went to Berlin. There was this beautiful old chapel and I remember sitting on my father's shoulders and seeing a Christmas tree all lit up. It was wonderful. Then we went home and our house was all decorated with a Christmas tree. It was very impressive.

"That's when you get your presents, on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day is when we have the big dinner. Family gets together and traditionally eats goose, spetzele, potato dumplings, red cabbage, Black Forest cherry cake and cookies."

Rhudy said there is a lot of anticipation for Christmas among kids.

"The first thing they really get is in Advent when they get the first cookies," Rhudy said. "Then, there is St. Nicholas. On the 5th of December, you polish your shoes and set them out. If you are good, you receive goodies. If you are bad, you get a switch. I used to have one, but I don't any longer."

Children also have an Advent calendar to help them count down the days to Christmas.

"Everyday you open a number to see what is behind the window," Rhudy said. "Some houses in Germany number their windows to resemble the calendars. Now, most of these calendars have chocolate behind the windows."

Rhudy said they did not start the Christmas tree tradition until Martin Luther came.

"In the 17th century, the Germans brought this tradition to Pennsylvania," Rhudy said. "The Christmas pyramid was used by Northern folks and Southern folks used Christmas trees. It comes from the old tradition of bringing greens into the house that you look forward to things getting green again."

"Each city usually has a large decorated tree," Rhudy said. "Some cities have pyramids like the one in Saxony."

In preparation of the Christmas season, Rhudy said folks do lots of baking.

"The stollen, fruitcake that is a roll, is the traditional," Rhudy said. "We also enjoy marzipan, almond paste. We would receive a marzipan pig with a penny in it and that helps us have good financial luck for the year."

Rhudy said there are many other delicious, sweet treats or goodies that are traditional during the Christmas season.

"My favorite is the baumkuchen, the king of cakes," Rhudy said.



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