Some hand-decorated Christmas cookies, including my nit-picky approach of placing each decorative pearl separately.
I have been extremely fortunate again with Christmas coming to me from two countries this year. While I couldn`t make the trip to Germany this time it felt like German Weihnachten arrived in the United States in parts nevertheless.
Of course, it remains impossible to have all the people around I would like to see in person at this time of the year but in my mind I felt surrounded by everyone important to me. Thus, rather than missing out I’m getting the best of both worlds. Plus, German-American “Weihnachtmas” sometimes also means that it stretches from the middle of December to the middle of January as cards, cookies (lots of them as you will see below!), and little packages waited for me at every stop of my winter break in Ohio, Washington, and Maryland!
So, thank you all for making this such a happy Christmas time. Please enjoy my visual Germanican Weihnachten-Christmas celebration below.
The yule log — a U.S. tradition that is a huge chunk of chocolate and cream formed into a mini log, resembling a branch of a tree. It is very tasty, smooth and sweet. But mostly more than one piece is impossible to eat. I remember that you have to pre-order it and then pick it up in the supermarket or so.
I love the reindeer cookies. They lack a red nose, I was told, but they just so elegantly jump into your mouth that the red nose would vanish in an instant anyway. These reindeer were created by J.’s mom.
Another reindeer — they have become pretty common in Germany, too, as a symbol for Christmas. This one is a U.S. version overseeing the snow in Ohio and glowing in the dark with lights.
Another goodie I associate with Christmas in the U.S. are Chukar Cherries. They are a Seattle product: different kinds of cherries, which grow abundantly in Washington state, covered with different kinds of chocolate and cocoa powder. Very delicious and not too sweet. I hear that they are favorite gifts among neighbors here…
See’s chocolate is also around during the entire year, but I again associate it with Christmas when the fancy boxes appear under the Christmas tree. It’s made in California and its candy collection even features Marzipan pieces (a ground almond paste common in German candy), but also peanut-caramel and marshmallow fillings. In any case, one piece is pretty much a whole dessert.
Staying a bit longer with sweets: Coconut Islands are among my favorite cookies. They come for Christmas but also for special occasions. I remember being pretty miserable once during an internship far away from everyone, living in a sketchy neighborhood, having nothing to do at work — not even coffee brewing or copying papers. J. baked and shipped a load of Coconut Island to me, which I treasured for days and which were my best and only consolation. (J. also soon afterwards picked me up from the internship, the best thing that happened after sending the Coconut Islands.) The Coconut Islands you see here were also baked by J.’s mom. We had at last five or six trays of them going in and out of the oven.
Literally sticking with the baking theme here, another master piece, also by J.’s mom, was a beautiful Stollen. It is a typical German Christmas cake with raisins, pieces of candied oranges and lemons — which are being soaked into rum or other tasty liquor here. The Stollen is even listed in the standard U.S. tome for cooks: The Joy of Cooking.
You know a yummy cake is evolving and it’s hard to keep your hands of the dough while it is rising. The Stollen, as is told in The Joy of Cooking, is supposed to resemble baby Jesus in a blanket. That’s why you have to fold the dough from both sides in. I think I also heard the lore that the shape you get when you cut a slice resembles the entrance to a mine. Mines for also called Stollen in German.
But there are many other stories around this cake, which Germans have made since the Middle Ages. Especially bakers in Dresden have laid claim to it. Then there is the story of the “butter ban” for Stollen in the far past and the ongoing hot competition among bakers which Stollen in which city is the best.
I clearly know that this Stollen above is the best this year! A fun fact: the powdered sugar you see here is U.S. powdered sugar and we found out that this means that starch is added to it. German Puderzucker doesn’t contain starch and thus melts more quickly on the tongue. In any case, sugar, raisins, and candies in the Stollen are a delight that the original Stollen eaters hundreds of years ago didn’t have. Stollen was bread for fasting, thus very plain.
And as corny as it sounds: it was a white Christmas in North Ohio with about 20 cm of snow, in some parts up to your knee. We were cozy inside while the flakes fell softly to the ground outside.
Now a bit more to the German part. My clever friends sent me greetings to all my stops over the winter break. I am always most delighted to read the German words and this time even receiving some very cool books. (For my German-reading friends: The book you see in the photo, titled Wir neuen Deutschen, is very informative and convincingly tells the story of three ZEIT journalists who grew up in Germany after their parents from Vietnam, Turkey, and Poland immigrated there. It’s a great contribution to the “integration/immigration” debate right now.) One friend even sent German Christmas cookies. Her mom always enters into a baking marathon producing at least half a dozen different cookies before Christmas. I’m lucky to be among the receivers of their little goodie bags sent all over. Miraculously all the different cookies with jelly, nuts, almonds, and powdered sugar on top arrived in perfect shape, without any crumbling! They were so tasty that by the time I took the photo they were already devoured.
My mom and dad have always sent me a Christmas package. But this year proved to be especially tricky. While my dad attempted to send it to Ohio, knowing I would be there, it came exactly a day after I left. My mom sent another package to Maryland, alas, it almost didn’t make it. Today was the last day to retrieve it from the post office. I bicycled against the minus degrees Celsius coldness and gusty winds to be the first person in the morning there. After a few agonizing minutes during which the postal lady took my two pink reminder sheets behind the scenes she finally produced the box. I got lucky! Meanwhile my dad’s package got kindly forwarded to Maryland… arriving with three baby Stollen, Knusperflocken, and Hallorenkugel — two East German chocolates — and two wonderful books I have been wanting to read.
Another messenger from Germany came. Albeit a little while ago and as a gift to J.’s family. It’s a Christmas tradition in the Ore Mountains [Erzgebirge] region: a “Räucher-männchen,” or in proper regional dialect “Raachermannel,” exhaling white smoke (sometimes via a pipe) fueled by lighting a small cone of typical Christmas incense. The cone is placed inside the wooden body which opens by taken off the top part. Its fragrance immediately transports me back to German living rooms when I close my eyes.
Clearly a proper home-made snow angel! Snow always reminds me of Germany. And since I’ve been living in the U.S. it also has become clear to me how much more homogeneously everyone moves through the seasons in Germany. Living in the U.S. with its four different time zones and at least as many different climate zones, celebrating Christmas in Ohio resembles the weather as it would most likely be in Germany this time of the year. But that’s not a given thinking of the milder Pacific Northwest or down South. I hear from people who spend Christmas time in Florida that there the equivalent of a snowman is a sandman on the beach. Instead of sleds, golf carts abound, and instead of reindeer materializing in the air, manatees [Seekühe] poke their noses out of the water.
And after so much reading and virtual eating, we perhaps need a drink. Egg nog is a beverage that many people in the U.S. have around for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, either store-bought or home-made. It tastes not quite like German Eierlikör, mostly because you can also drink a non-alcoholic version (which I like better.) It is thicker and more like a very creamy, sweet pudding. Plus, one drink fills you up for the night. In this sense, a (belated) toast to everyone: Prost & cheers for a new healthy and happy year!
PS: For my German-language readers: The German radio magazine SWR Info Medien broadcast a neat report about the tricky question of Christmas in the U.S. and the threat to it by the so-called “war on Christmas,” fueled by ultraconservative media. You can listen to it in the ARD-Mediathek, beginning at 10:45 minutes (URL: http://www.ardmediathek.de/swrinfo/swrinfo-medien?documentId=12804740).