St. Barbara Twigs, a German Christmas Tradition

This year, I was able to get my Barbarazweige right on St. Barbara Day: 4 December.

Our neighbor always lets me cut off a few twigs of the same tree in his garden, and I’ve just learned  it’s actually a copper beech.

Unfortunately, he said the tree was starting to rot, and he had to trim it just before I came over. I like to recycle, so I picked my twigs right from his green waste bin.

The blossoms are doing really well, and they like the warm spot in the kitchen.

Lesson learned: In a warm kitchen, you can bring fallen twigs from almost any deciduous tree to a bloom.

You can learn more about the origin of this tradition on Gardena.

Edit: Some blossomed this very morning on 17 Dec 2018! They are supposed to come into bloom on Christmas.

German Christmas Tradition: St. Barbara’s Blossoming Twigs

Following my mom’s custom of cutting twigs on St. Barbara Day (4 Dec), I get apple twigs from our neighbor’s garden. With permission, that is. And tradition has it that I’m usually a couple of days late with the cutting.

My mom’s cherry twigs would sit in a hollow space between the kitchen cabinet and the ceiling. Back then, the kitchen was the only warm place in the house, but the twigs with their tiny white blossoms would thrive. When I was a child, they looked like tiny snowflakes from my vantage point.

This year Christmas, I got a few pink apple blossoms again and it always seems like a little miracle. Blossoms in winter.

My older post tells you more about how to care for them, the custom’s origin and meaning etc.: http://www.pension-sprachschule.de/anything-german/a-german-christmas-tradition-barbarazweige/

Barbarazweige and its first blossom

If everything is timed properly, the blossoms come to full bloom at Christmas and this means good fortune for the coming year, and shriveled ones brings back luck.

A German Christmas Tradition – Barbarazweige

While growing up in a small village in northern Bavaria, I always saw my mom putting Barbarazweige on top of the kitchen cabinet in early December. These otherwise brown barren twigs would come into full bloom by Christmas.

Traditionally, these twigs are cut on 4 December, also known as St. Barbara Day (Catholic church). After cutting, they should experience a slight frost by either putting them in the fridge or leaving them outside overnight. Then put them in warm water for the first night. This will cause them to bloom later as the change from frosty temperature to a warm room makes it seem like spring is coming.

After the first night of warm water, fresh cold water should be given every three days.

Barbarazweige, a German Christmas tradition

Barbarazweige, a German Christmas tradition

Short list of trees or bush which are best:

Kirsche/cherry    Apfel/apple    Forsythien/forsythia    Haselnuss/hazelnut    Zierjohannisbeer/currant    Birke/birch   Weide/willow   Schlehe/blackthorn   Goldregen/laburnum    Ginster/broom (gorse)

Origin

This tradition is based on St. Barbara (Heilige Barbara), a shopkeeper’s daughter, who was put in jail. On her way there, her dress got caught on a cherry twig. While she was in her jail cell, she watered the little twig every day. On the day of her execution, the twig blossomed.

Blossoming Twigs bring Good Fortune

Bringing Barbarazweige to blossom is an old, but almost forgotten Christmas tradition. If everything is timed properly, the blossoms come to full bloom at Christmas and this means good fortune for the coming year, and shriveled ones brings back luck.

In the old days, a young woman would write her suitors’ names on pieces of paper and hang them onto the twigs. The one, whose twig blossomed first, should be the one chosen for marriage.

This tradition is mostly forgotten. Yesterday morning, I called my neighbor, a nice elderly woman in her late 70s, and asked her for some Barbarazweige from her garden. She said I was welcome to cut some, but she was not sure if they had such a tree or bush named Barbara. I did not bother to explain this tradition over the phone, but went right over to her garden.

I believe I have twigs from an apple tree, but we shall see.

Osterei

An Osterei is an Easter Egg, and can refer to different types of eggs.  There are boiled eggs that have been coloured, blown-out egg-shells that have been decorated, and chocolate eggs that often have fillings inside them.

As in many countries, the eggs represent the spring and fertility, and is a tradition that goes back to the 13th Century, even though the term “Osterei” was probably first used in the 17th Century.

Many people hang decorated eggs on twigs in their front gardens.

To hear a simple explanation and a short discussion in German, listen to the podcast:

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