Christmas was (and still is) a very important holiday to the German people. It was more important to Germans of the Mid-20th century than to most other nationalities in Europe. Like in the United States it had its secular elements with gatherings of friends and family as well as gift-giving but it was especially a deeply meaningful religious celebration. During the war, it was referred to as Kriegsweihnacht or "War Christmas." The traditional Christmas season began with the first of four Sundays in Advent and ended with Epiphany on January 6th. Germans loved traditional decorations using evergreen boughs and Christmas trees when they could be cut locally and Soldiers in barracks or bunkers often decorated with these traditional items in the days leading up to Christmas. Early in the war, Keigsweihnacht was a popular thing to celebrate for soldiers away from home and many soldiers were able to get leave to go home for Christmas. Leave for soldiers to go home at Christmas time was a coveted thing but it became progressively more difficult to obtain as the war wore on. Soldiers who could not get leave would send and receive gifts and food to and from their families and would make merry was best they could and wherever they were. As the war moved onward and things got worse for Germany there was less to celebrate and considerably less available with which to celebrate. Hand knitted items to keep soldiers warm were very popular gifts to be sent to soldiers as well as traditional food items when the ingredients were available. One thing that was was never in short supply was the ability to sing. Traditional songs such as Stille Nacht or O Tannenbaum were popular with soldiers and civilians alike. The final Kreigsweihnacht was 1944 and things were going very badly for Germany. The battle of the bulge (Unternehmen: Wacht am Rhein) was in full swing and there was some hope that it would turn the tide of the war. However, with improved weather conditions on Christmas Eve, allied air power was brought into its full force and for those Germans in the know, the tide had turned and hope was lost. Nevertheless even in the roughest times and the most miserable of places a little spirit of Christmas was present during the Christmas season. What follows is an excerpt from a woman named Margot recalling Christmas 1944 as a girl in Eastern Germany.
“Our father fought the war in Stalingrad, Russia, and was declared missing in action. This year, we had an unusually heavy snowfall. It was bitter cold; there was very little fuel to keep us warm, but Christmas was coming as usual, even without asking.
“Our mother was busy working on little projects for us as gifts, when we were sleeping. She even baked little cookies for us made from dark flour and molasses, which were hard as stone. The snow still fell and we pressed our faces against the windowpanes that were covered with ice in shapes that reminded us of delicate flowers.
“Beyond the Niesse River, the sky grew red from fire and the sound of gunfire, grown all too common. The Russian soldiers advanced closer and closer. But Christmas was still coming. Our neighbors had left long ago by train or buses to try to find safety in the direction of West Germany. The houses, once filled with people and life, now stood abandoned and damaged by the bombings, windows shattered, looking blind.
“The afternoon before Christmas Eve, my mother, two brothers and I went into the woods, where we spotted a little fir tree. Darkness fell and snow flurries drifted gently from the sky. We carried the little tree home and together we decorated it in all its splendor with ornaments we had collected throughout the years. We put real wax candles into little holders and topped the tree with a silver star.
“The tree stood there like a jewel in this dark and uncertain time. We placed little homemade gifts under the tree and lit the candles. The fragrance of Christmas filled the room and for a brief moment, we forgot the terrible time of war.
“We all held hands and sang `Silent Night, Holy Night’ and at that moment it seemed to us that the bombing and gunfire had ceased. We were thinking of our father, so far away from home in frozen Russia, and we wondered if he was warm. We gathered around his picture that was under the tree. A proud, young soldier in his officer’s uniform, and together, we lit his blue candle.
“A few days later, in the midst of icy January 1945, the Russian troops reached the Niesse River, even though the bridges were bombed as a last effort to detain the enemy – they advanced fast. We were forced to evacuate the city as the last ones to go. We scrambled into a large German military truck, crowded like sardines – so many people old and young.
“We left the city behind. I looked back one more time and wondered if my father would ever find his family again once the war finally ended. And so, on this cold January day in 1945, we started our journey into the unknown. The last Christmas in my hometown will remain in my memory forever.”