German traditions are historically a major aspect of the West Bend culture. The annual West Bend Germanfest is one of the largest celebrations in the area. At Holy Angels School, German is one of the three world languages, along with Spanish and Chinese, which is part of the regular curriculum beginning in kindergarten.
At Christmas, the German students in Frau Sternig’s classes revel in the cultural which has contributed an abundance of seasonal traditions in our own country. Students had the opportunity to learn about three Christmas traditions brought to America by German immigrants: the Advent wreath, the Advent calendar and the Christmas tree.
The German tradition of the Advent wreath in America included gathering greens and placing them around four red candles. A sort of “maypole” was at the center of the wreath holding up four red ribbons gathered at the top with a star. If there was no room for the wreath at the table, a wire frame or perhaps an old wagon wheel served as the wreath which was hung from the ceiling. The first candle was lit on the first Sunday in December and on each Sunday thereafter, until all four were aglow on Christmas Eve. Students were able to see a real German Advent Wreath.
Along with the Advent Wreath came the custom of the Advent calendar, a tradition of counting down the days until Christmas by opening windows on a decorated calendar, one window for each day in December. Behind each window there might appear a Christmas picture or symbol, a scripture passage of the Nativity story or a surprise treat, such as chocolate!
The tradition of decorating a Christmas tree in our homes is also said to have its German roots. In some German homes, real candles are lit for a short time as gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve. In still other parts of Germany, an upside down Christmas tree, hung from the ceiling or set in a base on a table, is a reminder of the three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, represented by the three corners of the tree.
German students also had the opportunity to view blown glass ornaments, nutcrackers, gingerbread houses and golden walnut ornaments. They learned German vocabulary for many common Christmas words, such as “Lebkuchen” (gingerbread), “Stern” (star), “Strumpf “(stocking), and “Kranz” (wreath). Students were then challenged to play German Picture Bingo by listening to the German words and finding the matching picture. Prizes were German stickers!
As a culmination of their study of Christmas in Germany, a German Christmas party was in order! Students provided the food and drinks, which included a “Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte” (Black Forest Cherry Cake), “Stollen” (Christmas bread), “Wurst” (sausage), “Käse” (cheese), “Kekse” (crackers), “Apfelkuchen” (apple cake), “Gurke” (cucumbers) and “Apfelsaft” (apple juice). They also sang several Christmas carols “auf deutsch”. A good time was enjoyed by all!
As the students prepared to leave for their Christmas vacation, shouts of “Fröhliche Weihnachten!” could be heard in the hallways of Holy Angels School.