In Germany when the first candle is lit on the Advent wreath is a signal that the plätzchen season may begin. For that reason I was invited to a hot chocolate and of course plätzchen tasting afternoon. When I entered Evelyn’s house I was immediately hit by the delicate fragrance of the cinnamon, clove, orange and ginger. However her cookie trays had already been loaded with different sort of plätzchen, Evelyn was still busy making more with full speed. Meanwhile we, others were having fun and also assisted for her in the kitchen, soon we realized that, that our conversation had diverted to old Christmases. So in this way I had learned that, that the plätzchen baking is such a big tradition in Germany and it creates a kind of competition between women. They want to know each year who can bake a superfine, delicious plätzchen in their neighborhood. And it’s also an excellent opportunity for sharing recipes, to reveal someone’s family secret etc.
The German word plätzchen originates from the Latin placental, means bread. The Germans took over this expression from the Romans, and in Germany still today all sort of bread which is made with yeast is called platz or with diminutive plätzchen.
In the 19th century in Germany, coffee and tea consumption with delicious, small cookies alongside were aproved by the church only on the red-letter’s day, otherwise during the year it was forbidden. Probably because they thought the high sugar content cakes didn’t make any good to people, but in wintertime, when it was very cold everyone needed calories so to consume the plätzchen was not a sin. Thus the cult had begun, baking cookies during Advent time, one month ahead of Christmas till Christmas Eve. Thanks to this tradition people found out many new recipes and in the course of the years the plätzchen had been enriched with new ingredients such as marzipan, chocolate, dried fruit, nuts, jam etc
About the origin of the biscuits: many early physicians believed that most medical problems were associated with digestion. Hence, for sustenance and health, eating a biscuit daily was considered good for one’s health. The bakers of the time made biscuits as hard as possible (so that it would stay intact for years if it was kept dry) as the biscuits would soften and be more palatable with time due to exposure to humidity and other weather elements.
To soften, it was often dunked in brine, coffee, wine or some other liquid or cooked into a skillet meal. For long voyages biscuits was baked four times, rather than the more common two, and prepared six months before sailing. The more refined so called Captain’s biscuit or English biscuit was made with finer flour and it was slightly sweetened but didn’t contain chocolate, or seeds than the plätzchen. In the 19th century a German business man was so fancied with the idea that he copied the English model and began to manufacture the biscuit on the German name “keks“.
Since I’ve been living in Münich for more than five years it’s not possible not noticing that Advent is knocking on the door. Children get the Advent calendar soon, and people tune themselves up onto the holiday’s mood with Christmas fairs, concerts and feasting.
When I’ve made some research about the origin of the Advent calendar I didn’t have to go far because it comes from German Lutherans who, at least as early as the beginning of the 19th century would count down the first 24 days of December physically. Often this meant simply drawing a chalk line on the door each day, beginning on December 1st. Some families had more elaborate means of marking the days, such as lighting a new candle (perhaps the genesis of today’s Advent wreath) or hanging a little religious picture on the wall each day.
Now see how does my Advent calendar look like in 2012
1 Dec: I make the wish list together with my children
2 Dec: I light the first candle on the Advent wreath.
3 Dec: We open our own Platzchen (flat cookies or biscuits) baker shop! We make macarons, vanilla kipferl, lebkuchen-gingerbread! The advantage is they stay fresh until Christmas!
4 Dec: Barbara twig’s day. Although Barbara is not a fashionable German name anymore, the custom of Barbara twig (zweig in German) is still popular in Germany, particularly in Catholic regions. To honour of the patron saint of miners, artillerymen and firemen a small cherry branch or sprig is cut off and placed in water on that day (St. Barbara’s Day). Sometimes a twig from some other flowering plant or tree may be used: apple, forsythia, plum, lilac. But it is the cherry tree that is most customary and authentic. If all goes well, on Christmas day the sprig will display blossoms. If it blooms precisely on December 25th, this is regarded as a particularly good sign for the future.
5 Dec: Mistletoe’s day. According to ancient Christmas tradition, a man and a woman who met under a mistletoe were obliged to kiss (the custom may be of Scandinavian origin) and this custom still goes on. Beside of that kissing stuff the forever green mistletoe is one of the most favorable Xmas decoration in Germany.
6 Dec: St Nicolaus day. Everyone knows that he was originally a Greek Bishop of Myra in the 4th-century. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas (itself from a series of elisions and corruptions of the transliteration of “Saint Nikolaos”). From the 15th century his reputation evolved among the faithful, as was common for early Christian saints.
7 Dec: Giftpapers painting, coloring etc.
8 Dec: Xmas cards writing day
9 Dec: On the second weekend of advent I give a pause for myself. I will probably go out with friends to a cafe and will discover some new delicious cake from the offer.
11 Dec: I’ll make Christmas ornaments of straw, paper, pearl, nuts etc. and I’ll dress up the windows. This is a kind of obligatory Xmas program.
12 Dec: concert’s day. Evening there is a Christmas oratorium in closter Schaftlarn but during the day I will hit the town with my family in order to enjoy the Christmas atmosphere in the Middle-Ages city. (Mittel Alt Stadt)
13 Dec: The day is dedicated to Saint Lucy. Its modern day celebration is generally associated with Sweden and Norway where girls dressed as angelic Christ children, handing out Christmas presents. The oldest daughter brings coffee and St. Lucia buns to her parents while wearing a candle-wreath and singing a Lucia song. Other daughters may help, dressed in the same kind of white robe and carrying a candle in one hand, but only the oldest daughter can wear the candle-wreath. The traditional bun, Lussekatt (“St. Lucia Bun”) is made with saffron.
In Hungary we call the day Luca-Lucy’s seat which is one of the most interesting of the Christmas Day festivities (In English speaking countries’ inherent evil’s day has also held on this day). The Luca seat’s preparation is launched on 13 December and one must make it from nine different twigs of trees. Then the seat is made up to 13 days so that each day is only one operation can be performed on it, hence the popular saying goes that “slowly made like the Luca chair” .
14 Dec: Nature calls! Inspite the cold weather a walk will do a lot good to you while nature is the best sress reliever. Breath in and out.
15 Dec: Glüchwein, Schupfnudeln and sweet waffle’s time. Negus, rolled finger noodles and waffle’s cheer us up. Evening I will participate on “The most beautiful Christmas choirs”‘s concert in the castle Nymphenburg.
16 Dec: Storyteller day. I am invited to a flower shop where the topic will be the fairies by the Grimm brothers. Evening I will light the third candle on the advent wreath and read fairies to my daughters, or we will watch some nice children movie such as Happily ever after or Golden compass.
17 Dec: We’ll make the wish tree
18 Dec: I will make the shopping list, (be aware of it that Xmas Eve falls on Monday this year).
19 Dec: I’ll make the nice punch the German Fire bowl out of the steel (0,4 l Apple juice, 1 sugar-loaf, two teaspoons of cinnamon, Sangria or red wine and rum then put on fire!..Mmm)
21 Dec: Sport day. The first snow usually falls down onto the end of December so it’s time for winter sports, sledging, snowboarding in the Alps are among our favorite pastime’s sports
22 Dec: Chamber music I will sing!
23 Dec: Travelling to Belgium
24 Dec: Xmas Eve. The big day will set in. In the morning I will decorate the Xmas tree then I will speed up…
I wish all of you a jolly, happy Xmas!
The German city of Dresden has a giant calendar built into a fairytale castle on its Christmas market, the Striezelmarkt. Similarly, the German town of Uslar uses the windows of its town hall as a giant advent calendar.