Christmas season in Germany conjures different things: winding and pictoresque Weihnachtsmärkte, seasonally draining wallets or St. Nick and terrifying (at least in Bavaria) counterpart Krampus. One thing, however, a German Christmas should always conjure: delicious food, and plenty of it!
Crispy goose, gingerbread or sugar-covered raisin cake: good food belongs to German Christmas celebrations as much as the Christmas tree.
And many traditional dish dates back to medieval times or even earlier.
Before they adopted Christianity, Germanic peoples celebrated winter solstice around the same time as Christmas and meals were cooked from whatever the year’s harvest brought in, like grains, conserved fruit, potatoes.
Nowadays on Christmas Eve many Germans eat only salad or fish, a Christian symbol since medieval times while on Christmas day they take to the table for a massive and delicious lunch.
The German Christmas lunch is historically centered around the Weihnachtsgans, the Christmas goose.
If the rest of the world waxes poetic about Christmas goose, Germans actually eat it, anchoring the Christmas table with a golden brown Gänsebraten that would make Dickens proud!
A tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, eating goose was originally tied to St. Martin’s Day, on November 10, but eventually became a part of the Christmas meal. Just after the feast of St. Martin, which some Germans also celebrate with a meal of goose, farmers work to quickly fatten up their birds to meet the huge Christmas demand for geese. However, even so, Germany still has to import them from Poland and Hungary.
Historically, the tradition of roast goose at Christmas is centuries’ old. In 1588, Queen Elizabeth I of England ordered everyone to have roast goose for their Christmas meal because it was the what she had been doing when news of the English victory over the Spanish Armada reached her. Goose then became the traditional Christmas dish in England and spread from there to Germany, where it stuck.
But there’s more to the Christmas goose tradition: in earlier times, Christians didn’t only fast at Easter but also during the 40 days between St. Martin’s Day and Christmas. As a result, on the first day of Christmas, Germans broke the fast with goose.
Often stuffed with apples, chestnuts, onions, and prunes, then spiced with mugwort and marjoram, the goose is served alongside red cabbage, dumplings, gravy and sauerkraut. The oldest known recipe for this dish comes from the first cookbook write in German language and published in 1350, “Das Buch von guter Speise”.
Baking at Christmas also dates back to an earlier time, and the Germanic tribes offered the food as gifts to the gods.
Gingerbread cookies and stollen, a fruitcake with raisins and sometimes marzipan, are very popular in Germany. The latter, the most well-known of German holiday dishes, was created in 1457 by a cook at Hartenstein Castle near Torgau. Covered in powdered sugar, the cake vaguely resembles a baby wrapped in a blanket, to bring to mind the birth of Jesus Christ.
Supposedly it’s bad luck to cut the stollen before the holiday. On the other hand, if everyone gathers to eat it after Christmas Eve mass, the entire household will be protected and blessed. But it seems that Germans are no longer concerned by such superstition, because supermarkets started selling stollen as early as late summer! But this is another story…..
Images from web.