Though Christmas in war-time is a turbulent mix of emotions, and never more so than during the 6 winters endured by German Forces and their families in World War Two, Germany actually lays claim to many of the seasonal traditions, from trimming the Tannenbaum (Christmas Tree) to the Advendskranz (Advent Wreath); also the eve of December 6th (Nikolaustag), festivities when the Reich’s children placed a boot by the fireplace and St Nikolaus, the Patron Saint of Children, would visit each house, noting misdeeds in his Book of Sins and leaving out sweets for those good, twigs for those bad!. Then from December 6th onwards, the children would leave letters on their window-sills for the gift-bearing Christkind (Christ Child), an angel-child wearing a crown of candles.
Meanwhile, soldiers at the Front made traditional wooden gifts to send home in the packs of comrades lucky enough to receive an Urlaubschein (Leave Pass) whilst many Germans across the Reich hung up Advenzkranz of holly & four red candles, lighting one each Sunday, as the children used the Advent calendar to count down to Christmas Eve, the day Germany celebrates Christmas and the Weihnachtsmann arrives, also bearing gifts. A room in the house or barracks would be locked through December, to be opened on Christmas Eve to reveal a decorated Tannenbaum, originally discovered by Martin Luther in the 1550s who cut down a forest evergreen and decorated it with candles & sweets for his daughter’s nursery.
Back at the Front, troops decorated their trees for bunker or mess-room, and prepared a goose for the table along with traditional ‘Dresden Stollen’, a heavy, fruit-filled bread …but as the war deteriorated, Christmas fare was replaced by lesser rations and at home seasonal bells were replaced by air-raid sirens as Goebbels’ Nazi propaganda radio broadcasts helped lessen the magic, nevertheless the wondrous traditional German carols, played on wind-up gramophones in fox-holes or broadcast via Soldatensender (Forces Radio), did much to lift the spirits of the troops and remind them of happier Christmas’ at home… and these are 12 of those emotive shellack recordings including:
O’Tannenbaum - Weihnachtsglockenspiel - Ihr Kinderlein Kommet - Süsser die Glocken nie Klingen - Kinderjubel am Weihnachtsabend and Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht, performed by Hans Tolksdorf mit Kinderchor - Erwin Hartung - Der Kindern Kleines Orchester - Gebrüder Steiner Quartett and Des Chores des Staats Oper Berlin…