Christmas Fact 13


German Advent Calendar: Fact of the Day

13. Dezember – Der Adventskalender

Lucienhäuschenschwimmen and Other
Regional Christmas Customs

Germany is a country of regions with many different dialects and customs. Many Advents- und Weihnachtsbräuche are not found everywhere in Germany. Here are a few interesting regional Advent and Christmas customs:

Amper river

On December 13 the Amper River in Fürstenfeldbruck is the site of a special St. Lucia custom. After darkness falls, children cast their self-made candle-lit houses afloat in the river. PHOTO: Richard Huber, Wikimedia Commons

Lucienhäuschenschwimmen in Fürstenfeldbruck
This German custom is actually based on the Scandinavian St. Lucia tradition. On December 13, the feast day of St. Lucia, in the Bavarian town of Fürstenfeldbruck, local children bring handmade paper and cardboard models of houses to church to be blessed. Then they carry the blessed miniature houses in a procession to the Amper river, where they set them afloat lighted by candles.

The traditional explanation for the custom, known as das Lucienhäuschenschwimmen (“Lucia mini-house floating”), claims it goes back to a December flood in 1785. However, the custom is actually much older, dating back to before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Before that, the winter solstice (Wintersonnenwende) fell on Dec. 13, which is also the day dedicated to St. Lucia. Floating candles on the river was a way to brighten up the shortest day of the year. The 1785 flood was only an excuse the reintroduce the custom. The current observance in Fürstenfeldbruck only began after it was revived by a local priest in 1949. Although it is not really an Advent custom, the house-floating observance takes place during Advent.

Some other regional Advent and Christmas traditions in Germany:

Anklopfnächte in the Alps
At first glance this Christmas custom looks like Halloween, but this unique tradition in the Bavarian Alps has nothing to do with the American holiday. Dating back to the 16th century, the Anklopfnächte (“knocking nights”) custom has children go from house to house, knocking on doors and asking for candy. The ceremony is supposed to symbolize the biblical story of Maria and Joseph’s search for lodging in Bethlehem. It was originally carried out on the three Thursdays leading up to Christmas. Today’s German Sternsinger custom developed from the practice of “knocking nights” on January 6 (Epiphany).

Neunerlei in Vogtland
Vogtland is a region that stretches across the German states of Bavaria, Saxony, Thuringia, and into the Czech Republic. In that region is found the Neunerlei (dialect, Neinerlaa) tradition, a nine-course Christmas Eve dinner. The menu for the nine courses varies according to region. The custom also requires that diners remain seated until the entire nine courses have been eaten. Getting up before that can bring bad luck!

Weihnachtsgans mit Mett in North Rhine-Westphalia
Roast goose (Gänsebraten) is a long Christmas tradition in Germany, but in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen (NRW) they add something called Schweinemett (ground pork). In this case, the stereotypical NRW love of ground pork holds even more true. The Christmas goose is filled with Schweinemett stuffing before it goes into the oven.

Oberammergau
Local families set up decorated mini-Christmas trees on the graves of friends and relatives.

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