There are a lot of traditions surrounding Christmas and New Years, some quite familiar like watching the movie it’s a Wonderful Life, and others that involve food like leaving cookies and milk out for Santa. Some are a bit odder like finding the pickle ornament on the Christmas tree or leaving your shoe at the door on December 5th so St. Nicholas can either give you a treat or a lump of coal depending on your past performance. Hopefully, your past performance was exceptional this year!
My Mom and Dad had a rather tasty tradition that they brought with them from Germany, making a German regional specialty for New Year’s Eve, a donut called the Berliner Pfannkuchen (Pan Cakes from Berlin).
When my 4 brothers and I were kids in the early 1970’s we were lucky to have our parents take a trip to visit our relatives over Christmas and New Years. The town in what was formerly East Germany was called Friedland, meaning free land – a bit of a sad joke as Mom and Dad were the only family members to escape prior to the Berlin Wall being erected. It was always a humbling experience to visit, the families there had very little but that Christmas was probably the most memorable of my young life. Nobody had indoor plumbing and there were no telephones unless you were a local politician, party member or doctor. There were no cars either.
On Christmas Eve we bundled up and walked into town, about a 45-minute trek in the windy wintery weather to the old Marien Kirche cathedral for the service. Because the building was ancient, construction having been started in the 1200’s, it did not have any of the mod cons that we were used to. It was so huge! There was no heat so the only service actually held in the winter in the building was the Christmas Eve service.
The floor was of dirt under the straight-backed pews and flat tombstones were set into the main aisle. What atmosphere, what booming sound filled those walls from the immense Sauer organ!
Afterwards, we walked back home and low and behold, Santa Claus had come while we were out leaving a little gift for all of us under the tiny spruce tree that stood on a table in the main room.
On New Years Eve Day the cooking went into full swing once again. My Grandparents raised rabbits and chickens and some tasty dishes were made using the unlucky critters sacrificed for the feast. Some things were not so tasty like Rollmops, raw pickled herring – possibly a German form of sushi?
And of course, the Berliner Pfannkuchen were made. Typically these plump pillowy yeast donuts were filled with plum jam but just for a joke, one was filled with hot German mustard. Who would be the unlucky person to bite into the sabotaged donut? There were a lot of guests. Ha, it was the neighbor from next door who got it!
So every year, in remembrance, I make donuts and take some to my Mom and we share a hot cuppa and wolf down one or two and talk about times gone by, and look forward to another new year.
Here’s wishing you a year filled, not with jam, but with peace, good health, and happiness!