German Christmas Traditions: From Advent Wreaths to Grandma Zehnder’s Plätzchen

14 Dec

As you might imagine, things are very busy this time of year at Bavarian Inn Restaurant, Lodge, Castle Shops and River Place.  The Christmas season is officially upon us, although some say it’s Christmas all year long in Frankenmuth.  We received our first big snow just before my birthday, the shops and restaurant are beautifully decorated, and I feel the warmth of the holidays in everything – and everyone – I see.

Last week I talked a little about Christmas traditions.  Our family has many, as I’m sure yours does as well.  Being German, many of our customs and meals can be traced back to Bavaria and the surrounding regions.  In fact, many of the traditions we Americans celebrate this time of year originated in Germany centuries ago.

In Germany, the Christmas season officially begins four Sundays before Christmas Eve with the start of Advent.  Many people celebrate with Advent calendars – a calendar with 24 windows that open to reveal tiny pictures or pieces of candy — and Advent wreaths – a horizontal wreath with four candles, the first being lit on the first Sunday of Advent, with a subsequent candle being added each Sunday until Christmas.

Of course everyone knows that the Christmas tree got its start in Germany.  You may even sing “O Tannenbaum” – the German version of “Oh Christmas Tree.”  The custom started some 400 years ago with people decorating their living rooms with evergreen branches at Christmastime.  It evolved into bringing in whole trees and decorating them with apples, gingerbread and silk flowers.

Of course Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Santa Clause or Sankt Nikolaus as the Germans call him.  On December 6, his birthday, German children placed their boots out for Sankt Nikolaus to fill with fruit, nuts and candy.  The name “Kris Kringle” – another common name for Santa – was derived from the German “Christ Child” who was the first bearer of gifts at Christmas.

Some Germans celebrate the tradition of the Christmas pickle.  We sell these tree ornaments in our stores.  According to legend, a pickle was the last decoration placed on the tree and hidden deep in the boughs.  The child who found the pickle on Christmas Day was blessed with a year of good fortune and received a special gift.  That is not a tradition we adopted in our family.

One of the most anticipated rituals of the holiday season at our home is Christmas dinner. The traditional German holiday meal consists of duck, goose, rabbit or roast, accompanied by apple and sausage stuffing, red cabbage, and potato dumplings. Even the fruitcake we eat today was adapted from German Stollen. We bake Stollen here in our bakery all year long.  It’s a much lighter and less sweet version than American fruitcake, and immensely popular at Bavarian Inn with our fruit preserves.

In the tradition of our ancestry, the Bavarian Inn Restaurant serves roast duck on Christmas Eve and Christmas day.  Our customers tell us it’s a real treat for them to get it at Christmastime because they don’t cook duck at home.

Roasting a duck is not a lot harder than roasting chicken.  It doesn’t need to be fancy.  With just a few hours roasting time you can get a juicy bird with a crisp skin – the best of both worlds.

Just like geese, ducks have a layer of fat just beneath their skin.  It keeps them warm and allows them to float in water.   The secret to cooking duck is removing and draining that fat before and during cooking.  For an extra crispy duck, try using a standing rack placed in a roasting tray for cooking. This helps the fat drain nicely.  A perfectly cooked duck will have very little fat remaining and a nice, thin and crispy skin.

Roast the duck in the oven at 375 degrees for three to four hours until it reaches an internal temperature of 175 degrees.  We roast ours with caraway and our all-purpose seasoning.  Many people like a glazed duck.  Many good glaze recipes can be found online.  Try honey-ginger, cranberry-cherry or pomegranate glaze for a different taste.

Because I can have duck at the restaurant, I make meatballs Christmas Eve for my family.  The recipe is available in my book “Come Cook With Me” available online (,19.html) and in our stores.

We also have lots and lots of “Plätzchen” — Christmas cookies — which I’ve already begun to bake with my daughters, granddaughters and Sophia, my great-grand daughter.  This is a tradition onto itself, which I’ll talk about next time.

Auf Wiedersehen – until I see you next week!

One Response to “German Christmas Traditions: From Advent Wreaths to Grandma Zehnder’s Plätzchen”

  1. Debsgreatfinds Kwek December 14, 2011 at 11:58 pm #

    I love reading your emailing the story’s are great take care will be up for the snowfest 🙂

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