• How 18th century German people saw Christmas



    How 18th century German people saw Christmas

    by
    Quintus Hortensius Hortalus


    Merry Christmas everyone. As this is already a rather weird Christmas, let me make it a bit weirder. I simply searched for the term “Weihnachten” in 18th century books in google books and here are 24 paragraphs of what I found. Obviously, I skipped religious and historical texts because I thought this should be on how 18th century German people saw Christmas.

    1.
    Georg Heinrich Zinke refers to Christmas in his Allgemeines oeconomisches Lexicon vol. 2 or better what the weather on Christmas means for the upcoming year. Mild weather means the winter will be long and cold. If it rains, everything will be good in the next year except when it gets very cold suddenly then the roots will freeze. Green Christmas and white easter will result in danger for the seeds (p. 3520).

    2.
    In Karl Gottlob von Anton Geschichte der teutschen Landwirthschaft vol. 1 Christmas is referred to the start of the agricultural year (p. 201). On Christmas, the tax is stipulated (p. 226, 317). And he states that at Christmas the Christmas stollen is obviously traditionally baked (p. 403).

    3.
    Johann Georg Krünitz says that the Jews had to pay an extra tax on Christmas to the Emperor (Oekonomische encyklopädie vol. 53, p. 830).

    4.
    Christmas presents are the theme of C. C. Dassel article in the Neues Hannoversches Magazin, vol. 6 (p. 1607-1624). According to him presents had originally a religious meaning which seems to move more and more into the background. Now in 1796, the sense of gifts seems only to please and be pleased. But even when the religious meaning is forgotten parents can at least educate their children with presents. There he presents 5 rules for the gift to one's children with a high educational value.
    1. The useful gift is better than the more pleasant gift.
    2. Present gifts according to the well-behaving of the child. A child which behaves well should get more and better gifts.
    3. Search for the wishes of your child and hand over gifts according to the wishes.
    4. Ensure that you get presents from your children in order to show them that they not only get but also have to give.
    5. The gifts shall encourage good behaviour and is intended to discourage bad behaviour.

    5.
    In the Neue Erdbeschreibung: Erster Theil vol. 1 by Anton Friedrich Büsching is state that Sámi people hold a market on Christmas (p. 566).

    6.
    Anton Pilgram refers in his Untersuchungen über das Wahrscheinliche to several weather myths around Christmas and dismisses them (p. 352).

    7.
    Also, one of the great law codes of the 18th century - General State Laws for the Prussian States features Christmas. § 34, Part 5 states that Christmas gifts promised to one's servants couldn’t be demanded in court. In § 36 it even got worse for servants. Gifts could be deducted from the yearly pay.

    8.
    Part 7 § 186 refers to the allowance of the gentries subjects to go into foreign service. Before they were allowed they had to offer their service at least 3 months before Christmas to their lord.

    9.
    In the 22nd title in the §§ 164 and 165 Christmas is used as a fixed date before which sheep weren’t allowed on newly seeded fields. In § 190 Christmas is also used as the end of a fixed time-frame.

    10.
    The Hamburgischer Staats-Kalender: auf das Jahr 1775 refers to Christmas as the date from which on market days could be counted. So in Arnsee a market was held the Tuesday before Christmas, in Brunswick, a fair was held 8 days before Christmas, Osterburg on the Sunday before Christmas, Salzwedel the Thursday before Christmas and Celle on Monday before Christmas, except when Christmas was on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, then the market has held the week before.

    11.
    In Freiburg im Breisgau a regulation concerning the almshouse says that all homeowners who rented rooms or flat had to report their tenants to the local authority under thread of a fine 8 days before Christmas (p. 5).

    12.
    Daniel Gottfried Schreber in his Beyträge zur Beförderung der Haushaltungskunde presents an arithmetic problem with the maturity date set on Christmas (p. 280).

    13.
    According to Thomas Hale and Peter von Hohenthal in their Allgemeine Haushaltungs- und Landwissenschaft vol. 1 cows that didn’t get pregnant had to be sold on Christmas or the Spring as at those times prizes for food was at their climax (p. 747). Also, one part of a cow herd had to be butchered in the autumn, the other part after Christmas (p. 762).

    14.
    A. Beyer asks at p. 1000 in the Intelligenzblatt der Allgemeinen Literatur-Zeitung vom Jahre 1792 for donators who are willing to support him financially in publishing his book about a theological question. The donations had to apply upon the 8th day before Christmas.

    15.
    D. Johann Nicolaus Schwartz announces in the Intelligenzblatt der Allgemeinen Literatur-Zeitung vom Jahre 1792, p. 2097, that he grants a discount for people who are buying his book before Christmas.

    16.
    An unknown author praises the beauty Estonian ladies in the Der Teutsche Merkur when their skin is as white as the snow.

    17.
    Hans Dietrich von Zanthier states in his Abhandlungen über das theoretische und praktische Forstwesen vol. 1 that a ‘green’ Christmas leads probably to a ‘white’ Easter.

    18.
    At the Staats und gelehrte zeitung des hamburgischen unpartheyischen correspondenten a landlord offers his house for rent either at St. Martin's Day or Christmas.

    19.
    Similar to No. 18 a landlord offers in the Hannoverschen Anzeigen, year 1752 a flat for rent beginning at Christmas.

    20.
    The Oberdeutsche allgemeine Litteraturzeitung announces a publication of a theological text on Christmas (p. 892).

    21.
    In the Sammlungen zu den deutschen Land- und Stadtrechten vol. 2 a regulation by the city council of Rügenwalde is cited which was required to be read out every year before the town (p. 74).

    22.
    Lüder Hermann Hans von Engel advises farmers Erfahrungen aus der Feld und Landwirthschaft, vol. 2, p. 237 to calculate how much fodder he needs to feed his animals until Christmas.

    23.
    In the Deutsche Sprachlehre zum Gebrauch der Schulen, p. 75 by Johann Friedrich Heynatz Christmas is referenced as an example on how to pronounce the ‘h’ in ‘Weihnachten’ (German for Christmas).

    24.
    Finally, the Würzburgischer Stadt- und Landkalender states that between Christmas and Carnival in the year 1798 are 8 weeks and 2 days.

    To summarize, gifts (and the right and in an educational sense proper ones) were already important in the 18th century. But, what I didn’t though when I started my small research, was that Christmas was important as a fixed date. Obviously, people knew when Christmas was but not that it was the 25th of December. For me, that was quite an interesting find.

    Also, Christmas had also several agricultural weather myths around it.

    And finally, a weird find with the beauty of Estonian ladies at Christmas was also in my search although I’m not sure what to make about this except that pale skin was the beauty ideal in the 18th century.

    What’s left to say?

    Merry Christmas and stay safe!
    Comments 3 Comments
    1. 0riflamme's Avatar
      0riflamme -
      Thanks for the research, I had sent it to some family.

      For what its worth, Christmas is twelve days long. In those twelve days are the octave, the eight days between Christ's birth and his circumcision into the House of Israel. The Church used to have many holidays and days of obligation, but those days are gone. Modern society is structured against introspection and religion, it doesn't help Cromwell and the Puritans went on a warpath against Christmas, and holidays in general. As English society diffused throughout the world, we're all a little whiggish and puritanical by adoption.
    1. Jake Armitage's Avatar
      Jake Armitage -
      "Modern society is structured against introspection and religion"
      Finally... I would say, we can start being focused on the complexity of reality (yeah, spiritual too) rather than the way we narcissistically perceive it
      Also... stop bothering about mental meals cooked by other people
      I don't have anything against religion, i think it's a necessary social tool... but that necessity is a childish simplification.
      In few words religion is a philosophical offense to reality
    1. King Athelstan's Avatar
      King Athelstan -
      Really interesting compilation dude, great stuff!