A Very Nazi Christmas!

Ah, Christmas memories from childhood… Playing elf to my pediatrician father’s Santa at the Children’s Hospital party. Honoring my Swedish heritage by choking down one bite of lutefisk every Christmas Eve. Getting a pile of Reader’s Digest books about topics like natural disasters and true crime from Grandpa Gehrz the next morning…

Good times. And recalling such rituals reminds me that I shouldn’t be quick to judge the way that other people celebrate the holiday.

But then, from the German Propaganda Archive, there’s this, one of the countless nuggets passed along day after day by Alwyn Collinson, proprietor of the fascinating Real Time WWII feed on Twitter:

Christmas is to us Germans the most lovely and meaningful season of the year. From it, we gather inner strength and power from the eternal life force of our nature. Mother and child, family and kin are at its center. It is not limited to a day that swiftly passes, but rather it encompasses a long period of preparation and many mythic beings and customs. Despite many foreign influences, over the course of centuries it has remained an ancient German holiday, and its nature can only be understood within the territory of our people. Today, we have once again come to know the true meaning of our Christmas customs and traditions, freeing them from foreign names and influences…

Yes, from the December 1939 issue of a Nazi periodical, it’s an article by one Wilhelm Beilstein explaining how the Third Reich celebrates the birth of Christ!

#1 – By not mentioning the birth of Christ. Father Christmas (or “Ruprecht”), yes. The Prince of Peace, no. And while the Virgin Mary is absent, Christmas is equated with “Holy Mother’s Night,” a time when “the shining eyes of her children are a mother’s best thanks for all the work and love she has put into preparing for the holiday.”

Christmas Party at Mercedes Benz, 1938
A Christmas Party at a Mercedes Benz Factory, December 1938 - German History in Documents and Images

In addition to this familial Christmas celebration, there was to be a community gathering focused on the winter solstice, one of the neopagan elements that crept into some corners of Nazi ideology. Here Beilstein quoted his Führer:

The winter solstice fire each year brings many millions of Germans into the winter forest, and forges them strongly together into an unshakable unity. And the solstice fire has always been a proclaimer of Germandom along our borders. In the past, the solstice fire was never a sacrificial fire to some sort of divine being. It was always a reminder, an symbol, an affirmation by our people of the eternal laws of life. It burned in times of trial, and in times of joy. It was lit in 1813 during the wars of liberation, and by the youth movement before the war as it turned away from the stable in Bethlehem and the songs of hosanna to the Son of David.

And what a communal fire it was to be, starting with a “strong, manly dance with torches” led by the SS and symbolizing for Hitler the “spark of enthusiasm that will burst into flame when the people most needs it, the flame in which the traitors, troublemakers, and liars who threaten our people will meet their well-deserved end.”

Alas, Beilstein added (parenthetically), “we cannot conduct [the community celebration] this year due to the demands of the war,” but there’s always next year, when Germany will be restored to peace and wholeness. (And I’m sure that theme was repeated in 1940, 1941, 1942, and 1943 — when the following illustration appeared on Day 18 of an “Advent” pamphlet for children:

Nazi Advent Pamphlet (1943), Day 18
Like the 1939 article I'm quoting, from the German Propaganda Archive

Until his long-awaited pan-German unity was restored, Beilstein advised that his readers

…include in the circle of the family all those who are of German blood, and who affirm their German ethnicity, all those who came before us and who will come after us, all those whom fate did not allow to live within the borders of our Reich, or who are doing their duty in foreign lands amidst foreign peoples. Wherever Germans may life, whether in the Brazilian jungle, under Africa’s sun, in the heights of the Carpathians, or in the confusion of New York, they turn their thoughts to the homeland in the Christmas season. Their eyes follow the clouds moving toward German’s soil. Their longing for their home grows, and their memories of childhood come back as they recall their mother’s German words. The ties between Germans on both sides of the border grow stronger which, on Christmas Eve Reich Minister Rudolf Heß speaks over the radio to the most distant people’s comrades, saying that we will never forget them, that they belong to the great family of the German people, which has risen again and has a great future.

For a broader view of Christmas in Germany, see Joe Perry’s cultural history by that name, recently reviewed in Books and Culture by Paul Grant.

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