Reminiscing German Christmas in Thailand
Published on: December 08, 2020
Missing Christmas celebrations back home, Christina shares some Christmas rituals and traditions that are quintessentially German, and her ‘secret’ family recipe of vanilla crescents.
By Christina Grawe
It’s that time of year again when I usually ask my Bangkok expat friends, “Are you going home over the holidays?” or “Is your family coming from abroad for Christmas?”. This year due to COVID-19 all is different. Almost all foreigners will stay in Thailand, and no one will have family over.
It is very different to spend Christmas in Thailand. It is a country where Christmas decorations are up since October, but the substance is very different. With only less than 2% of the population being Christian, there’s not even a Thai word for Christmas. Thais say ‘Kismas’ and seem to like the idea of decorations and jingle bells, but often mix them up with the year-end firecrackers.
For me as a German, Christmas has always been and is still a very special occasion. This is also the time when I become a little bit homesick and melancholic.
What’s special about German Christmas? How is it different from the Thai one, the American one or the Australian one? First of all: we have neither Santa nor Jingle Bells.
For many Germans, including myself, Christmas is the smell of fir trees, cinnamon and vanilla, and the taste of mulled wine, marzipan, and roasted duck. It is also all about family and friends. It is a time of hugs and laughter, joy, and happiness, as well as the time of practicing some traditions that are uniquely German. Let me introduce a few.
HEILIGABEND, Christmas Eve
Germans start the celebration the evening before Christmas, we call it the ‘holy evening’, similar to Christmas Eve in other countries. Shops and offices close earlier on that day and families gather at 5 pm for an early dinner. The difference with other countries is, in Germany, there’s no heavy Christmas roast, but potato salad with frankfurter sausages in most homes, and we open presents then, not at midnight. And we still celebrate on the 25th and the 26th.
CHRISTKIND, the Christ Child
The presents are brought by Christkind, not Santa! Children would never see Christkind in person; parents tell them that Christkind will not come and bring them presents if they are curious and try to see. In some traditions, the departure of Christkind is announced by the ringing of a small bell, which parents pretend to have heard or is secretly done by one of the adults in the family.
PLÄTZCHEN, the Christmas Cookies
A lot of countries have these, but Germans are really, really (and I mean it: really!!) serious about our cookies. We start baking at the end of November. All families have their own secret recipes and we usually bake a huge variety of cookies. My grandma Anna usually baked around 25 different kinds of Christmas cookies; nowadays my 82-year-old uncle is still baking from the end of October. He plans to bake only 8 different kinds this year due to his arthritis and he is very unhappy about it. We all enjoy these cookies, eating them every day in December.
Let me share our family recipe for Vanilla Crescents, one of the most common cookies in Germany. By the way, we only bake these cookies in December, never in other months. There’s no reason, it’s just tradition.
Vanilla Crescents by Grandma Anna
200 grams wheat flour (try the German flour type 405)
70 grams sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla sugar*
100 grams ground almond (not almond flour)
2 egg yolks
150 grams unsalted butter (German, French or Australian brands are recommended)
500 grams vanilla sugar for the coating
*If you cannot find the vanilla sugar, here is how you can do it yourself: Leave some vanilla beans outside for a few days until they completely dry out, place them in a container with sugar and seal it. Shake it occasionally and let it sit for a few weeks. Discard the vanilla beans and your vanilla sugar is ready to use!
- Preheat the oven to 175 °C
- Mix the flour with sugar, vanilla sugar, and ground almonds. Make a hole in the middle of the mix, put the egg yolks in the middle.
- Grate the butter into little flakes and place around the flour mix. Knead everything together.
- Roll the dough mixture on some flour, making into a 3 cm thick roll and cut into 1 cm slices.
- Form crescents out of each slice.
- Bake them for 6 – 8 minutes or until they are golden.
- Toss vanilla sugar on the (still hot) cookies.
About the Author
Christina Grawe is a German TV Reporter and Café owner. Based in Bangkok for almost 16 years, she and her husband own Mediawok, a TV and film production company. She has traveled across Asia to cover TV news and produce documentaries. Recently she fulfilled her other passion and started a cosy Berlin-style cafe called Café GLÜCK, serving healthy food and German family dishes. Glück means happiness, good luck and joy, all in one word. facebook.com/artisanfoodandcoffee.
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