Many of the season's grandest traditions hail from Germany: the Christmas Tree, Saint Nicholas (blended with the Dutch version to become our Westernized Santa Claus), Christmas craft markets, nutcrackers, the tasty Christmas Pickle (not really), and the always delightful story of the devlish Krampus (more Austrian, really, but too awesome not to mention). Heck, they start partying as early as December 5th, so you know the Germans love their holiday season.
But as we all know, Germany in the 1930s and 40s was not the place to be. Under the heavy hand of the Nazi Party, Christmas and its corresponding religious connotations - especially that incendiary "peace on Earth, goodwill towards men" muck - weren't altogether banned, but they were pushed to the side and re-adapted into a celebration of the state. The new "People's Christmas" (Volksweihnachten) was a time to celebrate national pride and the Winter Solstice, encouraging the traditions that harkened back to the early days of Germanic paganism, and all centered around a different sort of "savior" - der Führer.
The informative German Propoganda Archive features several examples of living through the holidays in the Third Reich. Start with this detailed mainfesto from the party journal on why and how to turn Christmas into a nationalist holiday. Here's a sample:
Christmas is an inherited holiday about a theoretical peace for all of humanity. There is no national or social necessity to believe in this. However, we can present it as a holiday of actual domestic national peace... If we make visible the blessings of this actual peace, along with its foundations and requirements, then "Christmas" doubtless can be a high point in the course of the political year. Both according to popular custom and popular view, the Christmas holiday can justifiably be seen as a festival of the nation.
Since Germany was also home to the Advent calendar (a way to check off the months of partying and gift giving), it is natural that the Third Reich would adapt their own. Here is a 1943 Nazi Advent calendar which includes such heart-warming touches as military scenes for children (pictured), a Christmas tree on the grave of a fallen soldier, and a non-religious version of the Three Wise Men at the Nativity, which seems kind of pointless without all the Jesus stuff.
Even the innocent craft fair was not immune. Nazified street fairs featured only hand-made "German" objects that delved into the Aryan history of the nation, and were pushed as holiday shopping strongholds that would keep the money out of the "Jewish department stores".
By 1944 the official version of the holiday moved even farther move away from the traditional as Christmas celebrations became exclusively focused on the war. Official "War Christmas" traditions became downright morbid and frightening, featuring resurrected dead soldiers and pushing the need for everyone to make personal sacrifices to fight a losing war. While the hottest holiday joke in Berlin was "Think practically - give coffins", the Culture Department issued a massive 200 page holiday primer that featured such lovely holiday reminiscences as:
On this evening we will think of the Führer, who is also everywhere present this evening wherever Germans gather, and place ourselves in the service of the fatherland. At the end of the war, it shall be greater, lovelier, and more impressive.
And this personal message from Hitler:
All nature is a gigantic struggle between strength and weakness, an eternal victory of the strong over the weak.
Or how about a heart-warming holiday poem (and accompanying photo):
The frost creaks
The storm rages
The peace I extol
I see in them.
The bright flame blazes!
Murder, hatred, death
They fill the earth
With grim threatenings.
Never will there be peace, they say,
Swearing an oath with bloody hands.
What care I about cold and pain!
In me burns an oath
Blazing as a flame
With sword and heart and hand.
Come what may
Germany, I am ready!
View more excerpts from the book (again at the German Propoganda Archive).
Being masters of propaganda, the Nazi's didn't just limit themselves to print. Here is a 1942 propaganda film (YouTube link) showing cutie-pie German kids celebrating the holiday and of course thinking of the soldiers and the great nation. Anyone speak German and want to provide a rough outline of what is going on?
For all their efforts, the Nazi's still couldn't kill the Christmas sprit. Here's an excerpt from Joe Perry's essay "Nazifying Christmas":
The tensions between official and vernacular interests in rituals that were constantly reenacted and open to contest threatened to escape party control, despite the pretensions of the totalitarian state. The "people's Christmas" faltered on confessional, class, and political differences—often expressed in terms of allegiance to "traditions" that resisted political manipulation—and on the increasingly difficult conditions of daily life, not least when the regime revealed its murderous intentions in World War II.
But Perry doesn't let everyone off that easily, and goes on to say that the German people were just as much to blame for marching along the party line. It's a fascinating read, and obviously way more in depth than anything I could drum up in just a couple days of curiosity-fullfilling research (though, in case you were wondering, I did actually go to the library to research this post). Here is a pdf of the whole article.
But what of today? Well, Nazis and Christmas still don't mix too well in people's minds, as evidenced by the controversy stirred up by this Ohio artist's Christmas window display. Meanwhile, back in Germany, Santa candies are supposedly giving the old "Heil", and on a more serious note, a return to tradition gets ruined by Neo-Nazi violence. And how about Christmas during those East German GDR days? Well, here's a 1958 primer film from The Internet Archive.
While I couldn't find any Nazi Christmas carol recordings, you can check back to Ken's posts of mp3s from Charlie and His Orchestra, and celebrate your Christmas with a little Nazi Swing. Watch out that this stuff doesn't pop up on your iPod shuffle while you're riding the subway - cause let me tell you, getting caught up in one of Charlie's songs and not realizing its the Nazi stuff until half way through can make you feel really awkward in public.