Discover Germany | Culture | Barbara Geier Column
From Christmas goose to Christmas carp TEXT & PHOTO: BARBARA GEIER
What do you know about typical German Christmas dishes? If you don’t know anything, then just think of a certain item of food that the whole world seems to equate with Germany (surely you know what that is), and you’re there: ‘Wurst’, of course! Wait a minute, you’ll be saying now, surely those Germans are not just – and again - eating sausages for Christmas? Well, the answer is yes and no. In general, the Christmas menu in Germany can be quite diverse and has many regional variations. Also, specific family traditions need to be taken into account, so things are generally a bit less homogenous than the UK’s turkey focus (another stereotype, potentially?). However, two dishes are more prevalent than others: ‘Würstchen mit Kartoffelsalat’ (Frankfurter sausages with potato salad) and poultry, which would, in the German case, be either goose or duck. Now, next step and further differentiation (don’t let anyone tell you that things are not complicated in Germany!): it’s not necessarily one or the other dish as there’s more than one occasion in Germany where a special Christmas dish is needed. First, for ‘Weihnachten’, which is Christmas Eve in the UK but the ‘actual’ day in Germany with presents and the whole shebang, and then secondly, for Christmas Day or ‘erster Weihnachtsfeiertag’, as we call it. The ‘zweiter Weihnachtsfeiertag’ – Boxing Day – is usually spent on the sofa, paralysed and overfed. Quite a lot of people eat something simple and easy to prepare for dinner on the 142 | Issue 81 | December 2019
24th, cue: Frankfurters and potato salad. The historical reason for this is that the 24th used to be a normal working day with farmers toiling away all day and hence little time left to eat before the ‘Christmette’ Christmas church service in the evening. Plus, other than today where the weeks in the run-up to Christmas are characterised by all types of culinary indulgences such as Christmas cookies and the like, Advent used to be a strict fasting period that only ended on 25 December. The fact that a considerable number of Germans still stick with the quick and simple option for ‘Weihnachten’ (Christmas Eve) might be that the 24th is now a hectic day full of last-minute present buying stress before the shops close and other preparations, not least for the large Christmas lunch on the 25th when the relatives are invited. According to surveys, Frankfurters with potato salad is the top dish for Christmas (i.e. the 24th), followed by the typical German ‘Christmas goose’ (‘Weihnachtsgans’), a roast such as pork, beef or game, then – stealing from the Swiss – Raclette and the so-called ‘Christmas carp’ (‘Weihnachtskarpfen’). If you are now thinking, just stick a ‘Weihnachts’ on it, and you have a special Christmas day – well, you might have a point. On Christmas Day, things are reversed, with the majority preparing the properly festive and opulent goose or duck feast. No humble ‘Wurst’ here. While this whole culinary set-up might differ quite a bit from what’s happening in the UK, the two following things should sound fa-
miliar: firstly, cooking at Christmas is considered to be one of the biggest stress factors alongside buying presents, decorating the tree and having to put up with relatives; secondly, it’s still the ladies who, in the majority of cases, take over the lion’s share of the work in the kitchen. So, whatever you do this Christmas, don’t get stressed out about food and having to cook. Just do it like my mother who introduced the specific family tradition of booking us in for a nice meal at a good restaurant on Christmas Day. Most enjoyable and much more relaxed then standing in the kitchen – or, in a nutshell, a merry Christmas! Barbara Geier is a London-based freelance writer, translator and communications consultant. She is also the face behind www.germanyiswunderbar.com, a German travel and tourism guide and blog that was set up together with UK travel writer Andrew Eames in 2010.