After sharing her childhood memories in Part 1 of “A German-American Christmas: Then and Now”, Eleanor O. reminisces about her family’s current holiday traditions. She is passing on her love of German traditions, culture and language to her granddaughters, extended family, and friends.
I met Elke through another Kindergarten parent. I had a five year old and a three year old, she had a four year old and spoke English with just a hint of an accent. Someone said she was from Romania. I knew nothing about Romania. We talked about kids. Shortly before Christmas, she invited us to join with a “few” friends to celebrate Christmas Eve. That sounded like a nice idea.
I will never forget walking into the festivities at Elke and Jeffrey’s that first time. There were about 30 people! The dining room table was covered from edge to edge with far more traditional German food than I had ever seen in one place. There was Fleischsalat and Herringsalat, potato salad like I remembered it, smoked salmon, shrimp with dill, great heaps of vegetable salads, great pumpernickel. Where did she find the Brötchen? But first there were “The Spoons”.
As soon as we arrived and gave up our coats we were all handed fairly large round pewter spoons. We stood around Elke and Jeffrey holding our spoons very level. Into each one a generous amount of very strong Schnapps was poured. The two of them recited a call and response poem in Platt Deutsch which none of us (including the two of them) understood. It ended with the toast, “Prosit!” then we all shout: “Prosit!” and toss back the Schnapps. The more faint-hearted among us shudder a bit. It is strong stuff. From then on we have a rollicking good time. As each group of guests arrives, they repeat the spoons. Some of us join in a second time. Some of us politely decline, because. . .
There was a huge selection of things to drink but we did not get past the Feuerzangenbowle. In the early years, Jeffrey was a bit shaky at getting the thing lit but now, 35 years later, he is quite the expert. On every surface and end table, there were beautiful trays of cookies. Marching all along the plate molding of the dining room and the hallway were beautiful hand-painted cookies each one at least 10-12 inches tall. There were noblemen in fancy Renaissance dress and ladies perched on horses with elegant saddles and bridles trimmed in frosting pearls and curlicues.
In the living room was a huge tree decorated entirely with hand painted cookies, tiny apples, sugar ornaments, candy canes, foil covered goodies. and real candles! At a certain point the lights were dimmed, we all gathered around the tree and began singing carols. The children were each given a long match and sent forward to light the candles. The littlest ones were lifted up to light the candles near the top of the tree.
We started the singing with “Oh, Tannenbaum”. Those of us who remembered, sang it in German. We closed with “Stille Nacht”. For many years the children were sent upstairs to prepare a play. It was usually a take-off on St. George and the Dragon with corny elements of “Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” mixed in. Some years the children prepared little musical presentations on the piano or played recorder duets. But the mummers plays lasted the longest until most of the children were in high school. The plays were finished off one year with a series of couplets in doggerel rhyme that said with a flourish that they hoped we enjoyed the show because it would never be presented again.
On the way out the door, each child was handed one of those giant cookies. The children are grown but still come home for Christmas whenever they can. They bring their fiancées, spouses and children. Other than that the guest list hasn’t changed much. But modern children have bedtimes. They lead very busy little lives and do not have time to prepare a “piece” or learn a song. But once a year we all still experience the festivity and the solemnity that is Heiligenbend.
© 2013 Eleanor Oliver (Used by permission)
On the night of December 5th, we’ll clean up our shoes and place them outside the front door, along with a plate of treats including carrots for his donkey.
We’ll cuddle up on the couch in front of the fireplace, drink Kinderpunsch and Glühwein, listen to Adventslieder, and read stories about Sankt Nikolaus. We’ll chat about gift giving, how it’s not about the recognition, but giving something of yourself and choosing a gift that really suits the other person.
On December 6th morning, the kids jump out of bed early, rushing to be the first to open the door. Did he come? Ja, der Sankt Nikolaus war da! The shoes are filled with chocolate coins, nuts and an orange. A small wrapped gift sits next to each shoe. And there are carrot pieces spread down the driveway - oh, that messy donkey!
The tradition of Sankt Nikolaus has been a part of our family for years. It’s a tradition that Thea’s family (Americans of German heritage) carried on, with yearly visits from St. Nicholas and Schwarz Peter. Erik’s family tradition (Mutti is from the Bodensee) was the Nikolaus and Knecht Ruprecht or the Krampus. When we lived in Amsterdam, we adopted Sinterklaas and Zwaarte Piet.
Our Nikolaus may be dressed as a Catholic bishop with a mitra and staff, he may ride a white horse or walk beside a donkey, or he may be a tall, skinny man in a long simple hooded robe. Whatever his form, he brings with him tradition, family memories, and love.
May the blessings from the Nikolaus visit your home too!
One of our favorite things about Alphabet Garten is that we get to know our wonderful customers like Eleanor O, who shares her love of German traditions, culture and language with her granddaughters, extended family, and friends. Eleanor graciously shares her Christmas memories from the 1940s in the first of a 2 part series “A German-American Christmas: Then and Now”.
Christmas in my family began before Thanksgiving. Most of the family get-togethers around holidays like Easter, and Christmas were at our house but Thanksgiving, that wonderful American idea of a holiday was dispatched to my Aunt’s house because our kitchen was already taken over by baking. My mother had the skill and the patience to make a dozen varieties of cookies that everyone waited for year after year. We started with the Springerle, they had to “cure”, to soften a bit. There were Spekulatius, Ausstecherle, Vanillkipferl, Pfeffernüsse, Zimtstern that had to have their meringue-like glaze painted on with the tip of a paring knife, Anise Tröpfchen and her specialty, Spitzbuben made with almond paste that she bought in five pound tins from a German baker nearby. Over the years she added American cookies to her repertoire, Lemon Dream Bars, Pecan Toffee Bars, Double Chocolate Fudge Bars and, of course she made chocolate chips for me.
Most of these cookies would get divided amongst paper plates with a poinsettia motif, wrapped in white tissue, tied with red & green crinkle-tie ribbon and brought to neighbors and friends. But there were still enough left to last until February, at least. Since this was the United States the exchange of cookies would yield babkas, and other kinds of Christmas breads, bottles of home-made wine, often made from cherries, and all manner of sweet crunchy things, deep-fried and dusted with heaps of sugar.
If we had any other chore on the week of Thanksgiving, it was finding greens to make an Advent wreath. Not as easy as it is today because the Christmas season did not start in the stores and flower shops until the Thanksgiving leftovers had been put away. We used red candles back then.
All this preparation led to a crescendo of excitement that culminated in Christmas Eve. Like every other little child in the Sunday school I had to memorize a “piece”. Dressed in my new Christmas dress, with neatly braided hair, new ribbons tied at the ends and brand new patent leather Mary Janes, I took my turn to recite my piece before the whole congregation. The church was always packed on Christmas Eve. The youngest went first and it always ended with a reenactment of the first Christmas. Eventually I graduated to the pageant. My greatest role was the Angel who appeared to the shepherds. I was allowed to undo my long braids and wear my hair loose. I was squirreled away in the pulpit and had to remain there–quietly–throughout the entire evening. On cue I jumped up in the pulpit and shouted “Fear not! For I have brought you glad tidings of great joy. . .” Even my parents, who knew I was supposed to appear at some point were startled. Fortunately none of the elderly parishioners suffered a heart attack. I retired after that.
After the service Santa Claus arrived and gave each child a box shaped like a house, made of old Christmas cards and laced together with red yarn.This was a specialty of the Ladies Aid Society. They must have produced hundreds and hundreds of them over the years. One side of the roof lifted up and inside was one tangerine, and a nice assortment of hard candies, nuts and a few chocolates and caramels wrapped in foil. Eventually we figured out who in the congregation played Santa. The Christkind did not figure into this tradition. After all, one never saw the Christkind. It came while you were away in the evening visiting Oma or going to church. When you came home, It had been there. The Christmas tree that we had trimmed on the fourth Sunday in Advent was now sheltering a pile of presents.
We would come home from the Christmas Eve service to discover that Santa Claus hadn’t forgotten. As always he came to our house early because he had so many stops to make. Pity the poor children that had to go to bed and wait until the next morning! The Christkind, it was explained, was busy in Germany and it was difficult because there was a war going on and the people were very poor. I was lucky to be in America I was told, and I should remember the little German children in my prayers–which I did.
Christmas Eve was always finished off with a huge midnight “lunch”. The Pieçe de Resistance was my mother’s Brat Herring, fried a week earlier in the cellar so as not to smell up the whole house and carefully pickled. All the dishes were cold, the salads and the cold cuts and the great German breads and Brötchen that we drove across town to buy just for this meal.
No rest for the weary, we had to be up the next morning for another church service but it was anticlimactic. Sure, we wore little bits and pieces of stuff we had received for Christmas but the festiveness and and the anticipation of Heiligenabend was over. On the way home from church, we always visited the same friends and dropped off plates of cookies.
Copyright 2013 Eleanor O., Used by permission.
Our Easy Reader items are changing! We are offering a wider variety, different levels, and different programs. Our Easy Reader category pulls together books designed to help children learn the steps to becoming established readers who can read on their own and comprehend the story. Easy Reader books usually start with a larger print size and shorter sentences. As the level increases, the books move to smaller fonts and more complex sentences.
Don’t forget that reading is a skill and success takes practice, practice and more practice! Try these tips with your child:
- Have your child read and reread books at the correct level and below to build confidence and fluency.
- When they are reading aloud, praise them for their efforts as they sound the words out.
- Find themes that your child enjoys so they want to read.
- Read books above level to and with your child to inspire them and show why reading is so much fun.
- When you read aloud, use lots of expression and model good, fluid reading – bringing together the written and spoken German and tying it all together.
Here are a few of our favorites:
• Lesemaus zum Leselernen – We have been offering these small booklets in Sets but the publisher has discontinued the booklets and is re-issuing the stories in hardcover format with 3 stories in each book. In the new format, the stories are grouped by theme and contain both Lesestufe 1 and Lesestufe 2 stories. They still have the puzzles and questions for each story to help with comprehension.
Two booklet sets are still available while supplies last — Conni set and Level 2A set. For the new hardcover books, check out the Abenteuergeschichten, Starke Geschichten, and Kommissar Kugelblitz.
• Dual level readers – These books have a more involved storyline for established or adult readers, with some paragraphs in a simpler style so beginning readers can read too. Examples of this style are the “Erst ich ein Stück, dann du” and the “Ich für dich, du für mich” series. To see an example, check out the Leseprobe for one of our favorites: “Prinzessin Rosalea und das Geheimrezept“.
• Leserabe is a series by major publisher Ravensburger which offers several levels of Easy Readers. In the Leserabe Silbenmethode series, words are visually broken into color-coded syllables to help with sounding out the words which helps the child make the connection between letters and sounds. These are meant to be read aloud by the beginning reader. Examples include “Der verhexte Schulranzen” and “Der kleine Drache und der Monsterhund“.
We have other Easy Readers as well, including Die Olchis, Leselöwen books with audio CDs, the dual language “Pia kommt in die Schule“, Janosch, etc.). Many of these books are series with many books — we can’t carry them all but we’re happy to special order if your little one finds the series they love. Just let us know if you want more information on additional titles.
For more advanced readers, check out our Youth selection with a variety of levels and recommended ages.
Did you know you could create a Wish List on Alphabet Garten? This may help you organize your shopping and keep track of the items that interest you.
How? It’s easy!
- Create an account on the Alphabet Garten webpage with your email address and password.
- Use the My Account button on the top right corner.
- Once your account is set up, browse the Alphabet Garten website.
- Click on the “Add to Wish List” button to add items to your wish list.
- You can go back at a later time (just log into your account) to review your items and add them to your shopping cart.
Please contact us if you are looking for something specific – while we would love to stock everything, we have limited space. So if something is out of stock on your Wish List, let us know and we can order it for you or help you find something similar at no extra cost. Just let us know what you want – we’re here to help!
We’ve opened our Advent Shop to meet all of your needs for this busy season!
If you need some help planning your holidays, we highly recommend “Advent und Weihnachten mit Kindern erlebt“.
On December 1, it’s time to start your Adventskalender. We stock a few out-of-the-ordinary calendars for a memorable Advent:
- Pixi Adventskalender have a book for each day of Advent. We have two different versions — the 2013 edition and one for the Sandmännchen
- The 3-D “Beim Lebkuchenbäcker” Adventsakalender is a colorful addition to your holiday décor.
A nice complement to the Adventkalender is to read a new story every day, with one of the Advent books such as “24 Bildermausgeschichten zum Advent“, “24 Leselöwen-Geschichten zum Advent“, and “24 Lieder und Gedichte zum Advent mit CD“.
On December 6 each year, the Nikolaus brings oranges, nuts and chocolate, along with a small gift. At our house it’s usually a German book, CD or DVD, and every year it is wrapped in the same small cloth bag! Check out our Nikolaustag Unit Study for more ideas.
And finally we celebrate Weihnachten with the Christkind and Weihnachtsmann on December 25. In our Advent Shop, you’ll find some of our favorite books and movies for all ages, including DVDs like “Doras Weihnachtsabenteuer” and “Die Hüter des Lichts - Rise of the Guardians”. One of Cornelia Funke’s Christmas stories, “Als der Weihnachtsmann vom Himmel fiel“, was made into a film, and we carry both the book and the DVD. For Pippi Longstocking fans, check out the DVD “Weihnachten mit Astrid Lindgren” which features 5 episodes from various television shows based on Astrid Lindgren stories, including “Pippi und das Weihnachtsfest”. We have a variety of other Christmas themed DVDs, both live action and animated. Come find one in our Advent shop to enjoy this holiday season!
And the holidays wouldn’t be the same without music, so we offer a variety ranging from traditional songbooks to children’s music stars. We all love the standards by artists like Rolf Zuckowski, but our very favorite CD for the season is “Oh Tannenbaum” by Sternschnuppe, with charming interludes that provide just enough story to frame the lovely arrangements of traditional Weihnachtslieder. The CD includes the text to the songs, which was helpful for “Wer klopfet an”, a favorite of our kids.
We just wanted to remind everyone that the November 15th deadline for Holiday Special Orders is fast approaching! We’re happy to fill Special Orders for your special requests (such as specific titles or items that fit a theme), or for items that we would love to offer but are unable to stock regularly. Special Orders give us the flexibility to offer you a greater variety than we can possibly keep in stock.
If you have a special request (e.g. Barbie DVDs in German, or policeman board books), we can research availability and pricing and then give you a quote. If you want the items, just confirm the order and we will send it to you as soon as it arrives in stock. There are no returns on Special Order items.
Our website lists some items as “Available for Special Order”, which means you can place your order directly from the site and we’ll send it along when it comes in.
Special order items available from the website include a large variety of tiptoi books. This interactive digital audio learning system is fun for all ages, with “Wieso? Weshalb? Warum?” books for preschoolers and elementary kids, “Leserabe” for beginning readers, and “Expedition Wissen”, which combines a fun story with interesting facts for older and established readers. We do keep a few books from each series in stock, but we can’t stock the entire line.
Other Special Order items on our website include out-of-stock items that are on order, and Advent items that we will not be restocking this season. Several of our Advent items, like “Emma wartet aufs Christkind” or the Pixi audiobook cd “Adventsgeschichten“, have already sold out. We won’t be ordering more Christmas items to stock for this season, but we’ll gladly place special orders for any of these lovely items for you. Because we order small quantities, the best way to ensure you receive any out-of-stock item is to Special Order it.
If you are planning to special order a Christmas gift, please place your order or contact us by November 15. Placing your order early ensures that we have enough time to order from our distributors in Germany and have it delivered before Christmas.
It’s easy to add basic colors to your everyday German “Wortschatz”. As you play and craft with your children, or help your little one get dressed, just slip in the German colors.
We have several books emphasizing colors to help you out. All are meant to be read aloud, but a beginning reader can certainly sound out words and practice reading in German. Most little ones love to constantly reread their favorite book, which will help your child learn the meaning of the German words.
Ich kenne alle Farben -
“Glockenblume, Fisch und Flasche, alles BLAU – wie Pauls Tasche.”
Help Paul learn his colors by turning the wheel to match the silly text on each page.
Grün, grün, grün sind alle meine Kleider – One of my favorite children’s songs is beautifully captured in this board book with fun illustrations. Like the song, each page layout highlights a different color and occupation relating to that color. For example, the “rot” page shows a little girl in her red bedroom, but lift the large flap and it’s a fire truck rescuing a cat from the roof of a house. You’ll find a version of the song on the CD “Alle Vögel sind schon da“.
Grün, blau, rot – Wir bauen ein Piratenboot! – Socke, the little raven wearing one striped sock, builds a pirate boat with his friends and learns his colors too. They use a red box, a green broom, a blue scarf, and more to make their colorful, imaginary boat. Each page has a simple (9 piece) puzzle that your little one will enjoy putting together.
This summer we flew in and out of Germany on a family vacation to Mallorca. I shopped at several “Presse” and stocked up on different magazines that we carry at Alphabet Garten. Some I knew from when my kids were younger, but others we carry on the recommendation of friends and our distributor. Since I would have the time, I decided to pick up a variety to read on vacation. Here’s a view of my office during vacation with just a few of the magazines:
Not bad right?! I’ll be posting some of my thoughts on the summer reading…but if you’d like to add your two cents regarding any of the magazines we carry (or other Alphabet Garten related topics), send me a note via our Contact form.
Don’t forget, if you are planning a resort vacation next summer, plan to book in December or January to get the best availability and prices.
Introduce your child to various occupations in this Lesemaus paperback series. The stories revolve around a child and a family friend that has an interesting occupation. They spend the day together and discuss the different requirements and activities of the position.
In “Kapitän” we join our friend Bernd on his tugboat “Jenny”, and spend the day in Hamburg Harbor. We learn about the harbor, some of the bigger boats, and visit inside the engine room. In “Fussball-Profi“, we spend the day with Philipp – we begin with the training exercises, talk about the soccer field and strategy, then go to a game to see Philipp play. The other books in the series continue in the same way.
This series is recommended for kids 3 and older, and is ideal for reading aloud or for self-reading when they are older. The text is understandable with a clear vocabulary relating to the theme. Illustrations are brightly colored and detailed. The books usually include an activity at the end i.e. “All diese Dinge sind in diesem Buch. Hast du sie schon gefunden?” and then show 8-10 labeled items to go back and find within the story. For “Fussball-Profi” these items include “Schiedsrichterpfeife” (whistle), “Trinkflasche” (drink bottle), “Rote und Gelbe Karte” (penalty cards) and more.
We currently carry:
Other books in the series available by special order include Imker (beekeeper), Gärtnerin (gardener), Rennfahrer (racecar driver), Tierpflegerin (zoo keeper), Astronaut, Busfahrer (bus driver) , Koch (cook), Krankenschwester (nurse), Lastwagenfahrer (truck driver), Polizist (policeman), Feuerwehrmann (fireman), Notärztin (EMT), and Lokführer (train conductor).