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Christmas in Germany

A Cultural History

Joe Perry

Publication Year: 2010

For poets, priests, and politicians--and especially ordinary Germans--in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the image of the loving nuclear family gathered around the Christmas tree symbolized the unity of the nation at large. German Christmas was supposedly organic, a product of the winter solstice rituals of pagan Teutonic tribes, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and the age-old customs that defined German character. Yet, as Joe Perry argues, Germans also used these annual celebrations to contest the deepest values that held the German community together: faith, family, and love, certainly, but also civic responsibility, material prosperity, and national belonging.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii

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pp. xi-xiii

This book has much to say about the generous spirit of the Christmas mood, and perhaps it was contagious: many friends, colleagues, and institutions supported my work on this book in many ways, and it is a real pleasure to thank them here...

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Introduction: Germany’s Favorite Holiday

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pp. 1-12

Germans across generations would have concurred with philosopher and literary scholar Alexander Tille when he described the close connections between Christmas and the German soul. Tille and his contemporaries — professors and poets, priests and politicians — recognized that Christmas was an international...

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CHAPTER ONE: Scripting a National Holiday

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pp. 13-64

In 1815 Caroline von Humboldt, wife of Wilhelm von Humboldt, the enlightened educator, philosopher, and Prussian diplomat, set up Christmas trees in her parlor on Unter den Linden, the main thoroughfare in the Prussian capital of Berlin. Caroline described the scene and the family’s Christmas Eve celebration in letters...

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CHAPTER TWO: Contradictions in the Christmas Mood

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pp. 65-92

Celebrations such as Christmas, sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies believed, could heal the fractures in the German body politic by recovering a sense of authentic Gemeinschaft (community) in the midst of an alienated modern Gesellschaft (society). His thoughts on the “belongingness” created during festivities concurred...

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CHAPTER THREE: Christmas in Enemy Territory

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pp. 93-138

On the clear, starlit night of 24 December 1914, British rifleman Graham Williams looked over the top of his trench on the front in Flanders and saw that “lights began to appear along the German parapet.” Startled, he looked more closely and determined that these “were evidently make- shift Christmas trees, adorned...

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CHAPTER FOUR: Under the Sign of Kauflust

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pp. 139-188

In 1893 it was still easy for the editors of Die Reklame, one of Germany’s first professional advertising journals, to marvel at the opportunities created by the commercialization of Christmas. An expanding industrial economy had placed an array of mass- produced goods on Germany’s store shelves, and modern marketing techniques...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Christmas in the Third Reich

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pp. 189-238

National Socialist ideologues like Frau Dr. Auguste Reber- Gruber, director of the women’s division of the National Socialist Teachers’ Union, were well aware that the familiar imagery of candle- lit trees, snowy landscapes, and regeneration...

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CHAPTER SIX: Ghosts of Christmas Past

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pp. 239-282

“ But it’s Christmas, Peace Christmas!” cries war criminal Ferdinand Brückner at the end of Wolfgang Staudte’s The Murderers Are Among Us, the first feature film released in Germany after the Second World War. Produced in 1946 by the East...

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Conclusion: The Nation around the Christmas Tree

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pp. 283-290

In December 1996, when I was doing the initial research for this book, I took a job as one of the 500 Father Christmases working for the “Weihnachts mann Campaign” organized by the Technical University in Berlin. On Christmas Eve, I paid “surprise” visits to five different families who had preordered the services...


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pp. 291-338


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pp. 339-372


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pp. 373-399

E-ISBN-13: 9781469604947
E-ISBN-10: 1469604949
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807833643
Print-ISBN-10: 0807833649

Page Count: 416
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2010