Sharing a Christmas feast

by Marion Rhodes,
Contributing writer

A few times a year, the kitchens of a nation cook up very similar foods.
Thanksgiving turkey. Christmas ham. Easter bread.

Over centuries, certain dishes become engrained in a culture’s festive calendar, turning into traditional holiday meals. Christmas is among those times that call for special foods – whether it is in the United States, Germany or other Christian countries.

For Sharon Bays, a teacher at Spangdahlem Air Base, Christmas means turkey or ham. Pairing the meat with stuffing, corn, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, her family serves up a Christmas feast typical of many U.S. households.

In Germany, a traditional Christmas dinner looks very different. Germans
celebrate Christmas over three days, and each one is associated with different meals.
In the middle Ages, Dec. 24 was a fasting day, and the tradition of eating fish on Christmas Eve is still common in some European households. However, a majority of modern-day Germans prefer wieners with potato salad, according to a survey by the market research company GFK Group commissioned by the pharmacy magazine “Diabetiker Ratgeber.”

The origin of this custom is uncertain, but it likely had to do with the fact that mothers wanted an easy, quick dinner because Christmas Eve is a busy day, when Germans go to church and open their presents.

Slight deviances from this staple are common, such as substituting sausages for wieners. In Barbara Fischer’s family in the Upper Palatinate region, the day is celebrated with sour sausages, a soupy dish of bratwurst cooked in an onion-vinegar broth.

“When I was little, we always had bratwurst with potato salad,” she said.
Liselotte Hallmeier, who lives in the region of Franconia, used to cook bratwurst and
sauerkraut on Christmas Eve, but in recent years, she has strayed from that tradition.

“Now, we eat fondue,” Mrs. Hallmeier said – and is not alone. Cheese and meat fondue, as well as raclette, have become popular alternatives in modern families.
Christmas Day in Germany once called for pork dishes to celebrate the end of the fasting time. Although pork roasts are still found in some families, their popularity has been replaced by the Christmas goose and the still less-established turkey. Usual sides are dumplings, red cabbage and gravy.

Dec. 26 is the second Christmas holiday in Germany, but meal traditions are less set for this day. Pork roasts are still popular, though.
Christmas is also a time for sweets and baked goods. In the United States, pies and cakes are popular desserts.

Typical Christmas sweets in Germany are Lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies), home-made cookies and Stollen, a yeasty, bread-like cake with dried fruits.
No matter what fills the plates at the Christmas table, there is one common denominator in the German and American culture: the food is always plentiful.
But what really makes the Christmas holidays special is not so much the meal that is served.

As Mrs. Bays said: “It’s just being together − that’s the best.”