Everybody knows that the Christmas tree came to Britain from Germany. These days a lot of know-it-alls like me will also smugly point out that it wasn't introduced by Prince Albert as is often said, although pictures of Victoria, Albert and their children around a tree definitely publicised and popularised the tradition in both Britain and the USA. However, rather than go into a long debate about the origins of the Christmas tree, I thought that for a festive blog post I'd mention some Christmas things which we owe in some degree to Germany without realising it.
1) Tinsel. Yes, tinsel was a German invention, originating in Nuremberg in the 17th century and originally made of metal foil. Like other shiny Christmas things (including the use of lights on a Christmas tree, ascribed by legend to Martin Luther), the theory is that it was meant to represent the stars shining over Bethlehem. One of the famous phrases coined by the humorist Loriot, whose death DACH marked in September, was "Früher war mehr Lammetta!" ("There used to be more Tinsel!"), a grandfather’s lament at the lack of decoration on his family's environmentally friendly tree.
2) Christmas Pudding. Of course Christmas pudding itself is very, very British. However, a story which I hadn't heard before but which I've come across in various places this year claims that it was the Hanoverian king George I who restored its popularity when he enjoyed some during his first Christmas in England in 1714. As this anecdote was new to me, I cynically wondered whether it was a bit of sly marketing on the part of a shop which is selling "George I's Christmas Pudding" this year, but whatever the source, it's been around for some time and appears in at least one respectable history of Victorian cooking [BL shelfmarks YC.2007.a.17420 and m07/.21989]. Still, at least we can't blame anyone but ourselves for mince pies.
3) Boney M. We all know that the much-loved "Silent Night" comes from Austria, and Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without Handel's Messiah. But in my local supermarket on Saturday I was reminded of another great German musical contribution to Christmas: Boney M's rendition of "Mary's Boy Child". Although all the members of the band came from the Caribbean and most grew up in the UK, the group was put together and their records produced in Germany by singer-songwriter Franz Farian. (Boney M also recorded a version of "The Little Drummer Boy", but let's draw a veil over that.)
So, as you trim your tree with tinsel, prepare your pudding and put on your festive pop hits album, remember the metalworkers of Nuremberg, the Hanoverian kings of England, and the disco singers of Offenbach am Main. And have a very happy Christmas.