Posted in Lore

Winter Lore 11 – Bleigiessen

Led Casting my family’s beloved and never missed New Years Eve tradition. As far as I am aware of it is a widely spread tradition in Germany.

It is a fortune telling devise, that has to be done during the first hour of the new year. In Germany you can buy led casting sets. Grandpa would usually just cut some pieces off old led pipes. Then we need the old steel spoon, whose one and only purpose for decades is: being a melting-pot for led pieces. Further you need a small iron pot filled with cold water, and a candle (lit of course).

Now place a piece of led onto the metal spoon, and hold the spoon over the candle flame until the led is liquefied. The drop the led quickly with one swoop into the cold water. Let it in there for half a minute or you’ll burn you fingers. Take it out and go crazy interpreting.

Spritproject suggests some interpretations. The typical ones are: if you have a pig that means good luck, an embryo a baby etc … but hey we had already a person riding a dragon, a big snake breaking out of a clunk of lead, a tree with roots and branches and stem and all … so you might want to grab a dream interpretation and symbolism book because the little description coming with the led casting set has so far failed to show a form any of us casted.

Posted in Lore

Winter Lore 07 – Erzgebirge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) are a part of Saxony that is as distinct in its landscape and local dialects as it is famous for silver and tin mining, lace making, and wooden crafts. A comprehensive history and recipes about the Erzgebirgen in English and German you can find on the Real Erzgebirge homepage.

I would like to tell you a bit about one part of the rich tradition that my family loves in particular, the wood crafting. During the dark winter times we light our house with the traditional wooden candle holder angels which are wearing the outfit of miners, and with Schwibbögen.

The Schwibbögen are traditionally placed on the inside window sills of houses and were originally topped with real candles. The candles are said to symbolize the day light the miners were longing for in the mine shafts but also are symbolic for the hope and love accompanying Christian believe with the birth of Jesus Christ. The form of the Schwibbögen is supposed (like the Stollen) to symbolize a mine shaft.

Particularly in the country side in Saxony and especially often in the Erzgebirge you will enjoy walking through villages during Advents- and Christmas time as houses are lit by these Schwibbögen.

My favourite wood carvings though are  pyramids (no not the Egyptian ones!) and so called Räuchermännchen or Räucherpilze – these are little incense smokers in form of wooden mushrooms, miners, farmers, gnomes or meanwhile any profession the creative wood carver could think of.

The pyramids can come from single story (like the mine in the picture) up to as many stories the pyramid builders can manage. They usually depict, the nativity scene, carolers and the shepherds including sheep, trees and winter scenes are traditional too.

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Winterlore 06 – Nikolaus

Nikolaustag day in Germany is base on Saint Nikolaus and has traditionally been the day of giving out Christmas presents. The blog will not be able to discuss the various names and local traditions that accompany Nikolaustag in Germany. The local traditions here are very different; dress code, Nikolaus’ companions and even his name vary.

In our area Nikolaus would come during the night from the 5th to the 6th of December and leave small presents in your shoes. Yet only! if you had cleaned your shoes, dirty shoes would be filled with coals. So you can imagine children taking their biggest pair of shoes (wellies, boots etc) and make the shiny the on the evening of the 5th December. Traditionally the shoes would be filled with sweets, nuts and citrus fruits until my Mom’s generation, now children would also get little presents. Some nice stationary, pocket games, maybe a book, favourites are chocolate Nikolauses. If you have a very creative Nikolaus you might put on your ties in the morning to step on a handful of hazelnuts.

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Winter Lore 05 – Federschleißen

Federschleißen or stripping feathers, was accompanied by a special tradition in my village. My Mom still remembers sitting under the table while the village elders (women) all gathered around it, to help stripping the feathers. For this occasion coffee (of course coffee Saxons are well known for their vast intake of coffee) and cake would be served and the women would exchange lore, stories from the past year and decide who in the village has the Kuppelchen.

It would not be a magical, mystical series if gossiping and stripping feathers would be all. There were rules applied:

1. The master of the house had to strip the first seven feathers, before the women could even touch them.

This was to keep the Alp away, yes we have the same word in German for the cause of nightmares, only that in German nightmares subsequently are called – Alptraum (litterally: alp dream) or in Saxon the Alp Drücken (literally: Alp Pressure) . So when I asked Mom about the reason for Granddad having to strip the first seven feathers all she remembered it was so the feather beds wouldn’t put pressure on the sleeper. Inquiring more in detail with granny she just in best Saxonian dialect said: So that’s not giving you the pressure (das Drücken) the Alp, you know.

2. Feathers may only be addressed with formal designation.

In German we differentiate between formal and informal designation of people, the common You in English would equal Du in German for friends and acquaintances, while Sie is used for strangers or superiors. So granny and Mom said address the feather always only with Sie, should you happen to talk to them, else bad luck will fall upon the house.

The women would move from house to house, until everyone who needed had their feathers stripped and ready to make new bedding. I am still in the process of unveiling some of the stories told during the Federschleißen, unfortunately the people involved are whether too old now or were too young then to remember, but I am working on it.

Posted in Lore

Winterlore 04 – Barbara Branches

It is custom to cut branches from cherry or apple trees on the 4th of December and put them in a vase. The branches are supposed to be in full bloom for Christmas. The lore says that if the blossoms open on Christmas eve the year ahead will be a very good and happy one.

I did not have a picture of apples blooming here, will have to wait about 6 months till I can post those 🙂 Until then you get a magnolia as space holder.

St. Barbara is understood as a helper in need, you can read more about her story on the homepage of the archbishopric Köln, or for English speakers Father Alexander also has his articles in English.

An Austrian phytogenetic website suggests to hit the branches with a hammer (the bottom of the branches) and put them in warm water, this will enable them to bloom for Christmas. I am not keen on the hammer method and our branches usually bloom anyway – not always on Christmas though.

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Winter Lore 03 – Stollen

In this post I will talk a about the history of Stollen and of course some recipes. One traditions says that Stollen (which is the German word for mines), is shaped looking like a mine shaft. Another lore says the form and shape of the Stollen is supposed to remind of baby Jesus in its swaddling bands. Initially it was a simple unexciting baked good which over the time developed into the rich fruit or marzipan cake (or any of the other modern variations). Most famous is the Dresdner Christstollen, which was officially recognized in the 15th century for the first time.

I will post you one of granny’s recipes though:

  1. 300 gr flour
  2. 150 gr butter
  3. 150 gr lard
  4. 15 gr yeast
  5. 60 gr sugar
  6. 1 pinch salt
  7. 1 egg
  8. 1/4 cup warm milk

mix yest sugar and warm milk let rest in a warm place for half an hour

mix the other ingredients together with the milk/yeast mix

knead dough well

cover bowl with cling film and let rest in a warm place for 1 hour

  • 1 orange zest
  • 1 lemon zest
  • 100 gr raisins
  • 100 gr almonds

mix the ingredients into the dough knead well

form a bread loaf like shape put fatted baking tray

cover and let rest for another half an hour

bake on gas L6 for about 40 minutes

once the Stollen cooled down dust with icing sugar

Stolen lore:

under no circumstance cut the Stollen before Christmas eve

this will bring bad luck, also the Stollen tastes better once it rested for some time, the original Stollen recipes will make the Stollen last from Christmas until Easter, while the last Stollen will almost have marzipan consistency and taste to it

a Stollen may not break before it is cut else this is bad omen and a family member will die in the year to come

it was and is still tradition to prepare a vast number of Stollen (and these are much bigger ones than the recipe I gave you), in my family’s case 12, all the ingredients are bought and brought to the baker which would prepare the dough in his kneading machine – the transport from the baker back to the house is critical here lies the highest risk of breaking the Stollen

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Winter Lore 02 – of Kuppelchen

The Kuppelchen or Kupelchen seems to be a Saxonian dialect derivative from the word Kumpel, which means pal.  The Kuppelchen is a house spirit, a puck. Depending on the character of the inhabitants of the house it can be mean-spirited and evil, or caring and nice – so the local lore. The village elders (women) spoke the verdict of who had one in their house (see post Federschleißen). Magical abilities, from second sight to healing, tend to run in families who share their house with a Kuppelchen.

How do you know you have a Kuppelchen? Have you ever ‘lost’ an object although you exactly remember that you laid it at its usual place, and went searching high and low for it, only to find it exactly where you left it? Something falls down, preferable in the kitchen (without you having nosy cats), or small things start moving around, without a draft, or any other physical reason, are examples local lore assigns to Kuppelchen. Here are some more:

 

Example 1: Roomie and me had midnight pasta, before calling it a night we brought all the dishes and cutlery to the kitchen, including our big ladle. The next morning the ladle was gone, we searched for it everywhere – and this is important, also in our room under the beds – it was lost. We could not find that ladle for three weeks. Until I once again vacuumed under the bed and the ladle was (clean!) right there, peaking out from under the bed. And no it was not a joke from any other flat member, besides the fact that no one could have accessed our room, neither of them where practical jokers, or had any sense of humour we would know of. Also someone playing a trick like this usually reveals herself after some time to see the expression on the faces of the tricked.

Example 2: I have to run to school looking for a paper I have to hand in and cannot find it, although I laid it on top of the pile the night before. I am searching for about 20 minutes, went through the pile 5 times, it was not there. Close to tears I sat on my bed saying out lout, I really, really need this paper. I go to the desk to sort through the pile one more time, the paper is right on top.

Example 3: Mom’s car keys are not in the key basket, she is tired and exhausted and has to leave she sits down perplexed. Mind you after granny and her sorted this key basket (which has no more than 5 keys in it to begin with) several times together, and each on their own. After a wee break, Mom gives it a last try and the keys were in the basket, innocently as if they had waited for her all time long.

Example 4: A friend and me met up in a B&B on the Outer Hebrides, the B&B must have had some very active Kuppelchen. When we came up the landing my room was to the left and my friend’s room to the right, in the middle between the both rooms was a small bathroom. No one could have come up without us realizing it. While I took a shower, my friend unpacked his stuff. He had is room door open, no one came up. When we went into my room (which was the bigger one) to have our dinner, the knives had miraculously left the tray and lay in the middle of the room on the floor. (The house had no cats either). My friend got really scared, while I thought it was funny. After he had his shower, he came out really angry with me, yelling asking me what I did do this for. When I asked him what I was supposed to have done, he said that while he was showering someone was constantly opening and closing the bathroom door. (Which I had not heard, because I was rummaging in my room unpacking.) He got so freaked out that he left the light on sleeping. Mind you the weirdest thing was, during the night there were strange noises, which I was still not concerned about, because I thought that were seagulls on the roof or mice or so (as we were in the countryside). Yet, my friend spend the rest of the night wide awake, and when we went to breakfast the owner of the B&B asked us expectantly, if something had disturbed us during the night. I said innocently: No. Upon which she looked at us astounded asking: Really, are you sure that no one disturbed you? – That was the point I got suspicious. No one?!

The Kuppelchen tend to be what we call Schlawiner (little rascals), whilst they love to hide things and play little tricks; these tricks are never mean (as long as you are not). Kuppelchen are said to help keeping the house safe and peaceful. They also can move with a person, my family is convinced one of ours moved with me to Scotland.