Your How-to Guide on doing Christmas like a real Bavarian
from “Our Man in Deutschland”
Hallo folks! Welcome to another post from Our Man in Deutschland, Hophaus’ official Berlin-based correspondent, sending all the latest brouhaha and festive brew-related goings on from the hoppy heart of Deutschland.
Feels like we were only just saying it, but Christmas is again on the doorstep folks. Cue the mad calendar shuffling, excessive catch-ups and enough festivity to keep you sailing right on through to the next winter.
While the action has yet to kick off in Australia, it’s already knee deep into the fröhlich season over in Deutschland. As arbiters of all things Bavarian ‘round these parts, we thought it was only fitting to herald this most convivial time of the year with a good old fashioned run down on how to ‘do festivity’ the Bavarian way. Proper like.
For southern hemisphere dwellers, a bona fide Weihnachten is a foreign art (as it ought to be in the midst of searing Australian heat, so far from the December norms of the Old World). However, given that we’re stubbornly fond of dabbling in the odd baubled fir tree and carrot nosed snowman, we might as well go the full hog regardless of our climatic shortcomings: this winter summer, rouse your inner Bavarian, and join the Hophaus massif in making the 2016 Frohliche season a truly authentic Bavarian affair. Here’s the Hophaus checklist on how to do exactly that.
More than just the 25th
For Australians, Christmas revolves solely around the big day itself. Sure, Christmas Eve gets a run with its carols and masses, but the bulk of the festive action is generally crammed into the day of the 25th (mandatory cricket/shopping recovery on the 26th not included). In Bavaria, festivities kick off much earlier: being a chiefly Catholic hub, Advent is a big part of the Bavarian Christmas deal, beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. Expect to see candle-lit laurel wreaths and Adventkalendars erected everywhere in preparation for the arrival, or ‘advent’ of the Christ Child (das Christkind).
A week or so after the advent of…advent, Bavarians herald in the Day of St Nicholas, a crucial festive observance held in honour of Nicholas of Myra, a Greek Christian bishop with a penchant miracles and secret gifts. A dead ringer for Santa, white-bearded St Nick is said to visit local children on the night of the 5th, dishing out goodies into the polished, prepared boots of the well behaved. If they’ve been behaving poorly, however, the best they can expect is a switch of wood or a beating with a bag of ashes from St Nick’s harsh watchman, Knecht Ruprecht. As heavy as that sounds, it’s a lot better than the deal in Austria and the Eastern Bavarian Alps, where St Nick rolls with the truly terrifying Krampus, a menacing, horny-goat-headed beast who allegedly whips misbehaving children with switches, before kidnapping them via burlap sack and dumping them in freezing rivers.
Klausen-Treiben, Buttnmandl Run and the Klöpfelnächte
While most of Bavaria is committed to a fairly benevolent take on the St Nicholas affair, some districts prefer to do things their own way. In the Allgäu, St Nick’s Day is driven by young men donning furs, leather and animal masks (think antlers and ox horns) who rouse the streets with bells and chains in order to drive away spirits. In Berchtesgadener Land, men would traditionally ply themselves with straw and fur masks and jangle cowbells from their waists – again, to rid their homes of evil ghouls. Won’t someone think of the children?
Indeed, it appears that folks in Berchtesgadener Land like to leave nothing to chance when it comes to the wintertime spooks – they also enjoy firing thousands of guns a half hour before midnight into the air each Sunday leading up to the 25th. (Take that, evil).
Things definitely get less full-on a week or so later with the Klöpfelnächte, a night where local children take to the streets dressed as good-willing shepherds, knocking on doors to sing songs and bless the local townsfolk for small coin donations.
Christmas season in Germany is perhaps most loved for its incredible variety of stunningly lit night markets, or weihnachstmarkts. A tradition embraced nation-wide during the fröhlich season, local weihnachstmarkts offer firm insulation from the chill with Ferris wheel rides, roasted chestnuts, delicious, hearty fare, and as much rum-spiked hot, cockle-roasting gluhwein as you can drink before Santa comes and goes for another year.
Speaking of that, in the world of gastronomic pleasure few beverages cater to the Bavarian stomach quite as well as gluhwein. Christmas in Bavaria yields a range of delicious hot beverages, including feuerzangenbowle (essentially gluhwein with the added novelty of a flaming, rum-soaked sugarloaf), and Asbach Rüdesheimer Kaffee, a brandy-charged, sugar-flamed, fresh-cream-heavy coffee served in a decorative mug. When you’re teeth are chattering and your fingernails have gone numb, it really doesn’t get much better.
And if that isn’t enough of a sugar rush, Bavarian sweet-junkies can get their hit well and truly across the advent months, with spritz cookies, cinnamon stars and almond crescents coated in powdered sugar on offer en masse. Cookie monsters unite!
The humble Christmas Tree was never actually a tradition Bavarian custom, but like so many of Catholic Bavaria’s festive idiosyncrasies, the tannenbaum is thought to be a Protestant import – likely the work of Bavarian King Ludwig and Princess von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, who installed the first tree as part of the festive season back in the 19th Century (and whose revered marriage incidentally kicked off Munich’s still very popular annual Oktoberfest celebration).
The Big Day and Eve
Customs tend to vary on the 24th and 25th, but as a loose guide, the night before is typically a splendid time to trim your tree, set out the nativity scene, indulge in a few carols, and rip open a gift or two. Food-wise, it might come as some surprise that the common Christmas Day meal of goose and pig was traditionally supplanted by fish. Christmas carp was the annual delicacy, stored in a wooden tub until the 25th before being whipped up with staple sides of potatoes and kraut. While folks across the border in Franconia might dish up their carp the night before, Bavarians would probably be tucking into plates of weißwurst and potato salad and other delicious fatty things, washing it all down of course with delicious bier in mugs trimmed with ribbon and pine sprigs.
Christmas season in Bavaria officially ends with the feast of Heilig Drei König (aka the Three Wise Men) on January 6 (or the Feast of the Epiphany). Here, Christmas tree candles are lit a final time, and what’s left of the Christmas cookie stash is downed with liberal doses of white wine punch. But before all that, you’ve got the Rauchnächte to contend with. A traditionally Teutonic affair, Germanic tribes centuries ago indulged in ‘wild hunts’, roving in packs through local forests on the smoky nights of the Rauchnächte, burning incense and wreaking all kinds of unholy racket in order to drive out the previous year’s evil spirits (if you haven’t cottoned on yet, Bavarians do not dig nasty spirits). Throughout Upper and Lower Bavaria still, locals can be seen in the forests during the 12 days post-Christmas donning spooky masks, and doing their bit to ward off the festive ghouls.
So, got it all covered? Ready to roll? If you’re still uncertain, let us take you under our wing this Weihnachten:
On Saturday December 24 and Sunday December 25 we’ll be serving up a delicious set price three-course shared Bavarian feast for you and the fam (yes, you’re all invited) Click here for more info, and be sure to get in asap – tables are moving fast.
If you can’t wait until then, be like a Bavarian and get your festivity flowing sooner rather than later – let us look after your Christmas function, party or cocktail event with a uniquely tailored festive package. More info on Hophaus functions here.
We’re partying all the way to 2017!
Lastly, keen to make a Rauchnachte ruckus? We’ve got you covered post-Xmas with an unforgettable New Year’s Eve Sylvester Celebration on Saturday the 31st. Check out our Twilight and Midnight Dining options, and our full range of stunning NYE packages here.
Until then, Frohe Weihnachten from Hophaus! See you soon!