As lefties cop the blame for stealing Germany’s Christmas, the facts say different, writes Cathrin Schaer from Berlin.
In Germany, red poinsettia plants are as much a part of Christmas as pōhutukawa are in New Zealand. Germans call the plants “Weihnachtsstern”, or Christmas stars. Legend has it that the plant was first used at Christmas in the 16th century by Franciscan monks, who told the tale of a street urchin who had nothing to offer at the birth of Jesus Christ. So she picked flowers from the street, among these, a poinsettia yet to bloom. On Christmas Eve, it turned red and has been a symbol of the season ever since. Or so the story goes.
This floral custom was the background to one German shopper’s outrage earlier this month. Supermarkets here are just starting to sell Christmas products and the multi-national Aldi chain began advertising its poinsettias as “winter stars”.
“The Christmas star has been a tradition here for generations,” the agitated punter wrote on Aldi’s Facebook page after having seen the flowers advertised. “The management of Aldi has been subjugated by left wingers and Muslims!”
It’s not the first time this kind of accusation has been made against those who are – supposedly – attempting to wrest the Christ out of Christmas and make the event a secular holiday. US President Donald Trump has complained about the greeting “happy holidays”, apparently so offensive that it was described as political correctness gone mad by American conservatives. In Germany, locals have a different seasonal bugbear: the fact that some of the country’s world-famous Christmas markets are being relabelled and now have such odious names as “winter market” or – oh, the horror! – “festival of lights”.
In 2017, after a right-wing agitator commented on the fact that the northern town of Elmshorn had renamed its Christmas market after its lighting, there was hand-wringing over the end of German culture and calls for the mayor’s resignation.
“Christmas markets are a centuries-old tradition and the festival is deeply Christian,” a scandalised conservative politician told local media. “Christmas is being systematically degraded.”
Ignoring that Christmas actually also has pagan roots, the Elmshorn city council had a good answer: actually, guys, the market was renamed “festival of lights” 10 years ago after local businesses donated a display of, yes, lights in order to renovate what was a somewhat lacklustre event. Strange that you only just noticed.
Other festivals with lights made similar points: Munster’s festival of lights has been going 32 years; another, in Bergkamen, for 11 years.
Faced with similar hysteria about their “winter market” in Munich, event managers explained to metaphorical-pitchfork-wielding villagers that, because, since 2006, their market had stayed open beyond the traditional Christmas market dates, they’d decided on a more suitable moniker.
Maybe that’s why Aldi’s customer-service representatives were so quick to fire back at potential poinsettia haters. This first batch of pot plants was white; the plants with red flowers were going on sale closer to Christmas, an Aldi staffer wrote in a reply that would make headlines around Germany. So Aldi had changed the name to avoid any confusion at the counter. “But you can call your plant ‘Horst’, if that makes you feel better,” the smart-arse company rep suggested, before adding a hashtag: #dealwithit.
Cathrin Schaer is editor-in-chief of Iraqi news website Niqash.org, based in Berlin.
This column was first published in the November 30, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.