Did the Germans invent Christmas?


Roast goose and red cabbage, bratwurst, gingerbread, candles, hand-crafted wooden figures from the Erzgebirge, blown-glass baubles for the Christmas tree, The Nutcracker and “Silent Night”: these are some of the ingredients that create Gemütlichkeit (a kind of jovial cosiness), Geborgenheit (snug security) and Innigkeit (an inner warmth, awareness of soul) – three words treacherous to translate yet integral to a mood that sees millions flock to the Christmas markets of Berlin, Nuremberg, Dresden and Cologne. German Christmas receives uncharacteristically good press, capturing a lost world of innocence, some argue, a holiday celebrated thus since time immemorial. Not so, reveals Joe Perry in Christmas in Germany, his excellent cultural history: this Christmas celebration is a relatively recent invention, one moulded and manipulated by those in power from the early nineteenth century through the fractured society of the 1848 revolutions, the Franco–Prussian war, the unified Germany of the 1870s, two World Wars, the sandwiched Weimar Republic, the Cold War with US care packages – “the oranges, fine chocolates, coffee, soap, and perfume . . . smelled like the West” – and the Red Christmases of the GDR.

more from Rebecca K. Morrison at the TLS here.