In Germany, the four weeks leading up to Christmas are used as preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ and are called Advent, the Latin word for “coming” or “arrival.”
“We always loved the Advent season, these four weeks before Christmas,” Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf, wife of Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said.
On a recent episode of the Church News podcast, Sister Uchtdorf and her daughter Antje Uchtdorf Evans reflected on their own family Christmas traditions and how these traditions point them to the Savior.
“We know that we can embrace and enjoy wonderful Christmas traditions the best way by keeping them focused on the center of Christmas, which is our Savior, Jesus Christ,” Sister Uchtdorf said.
One of the Uchtdorf family’s cherished Christmas traditions when they lived in Germany was going to their local Christkindlmarkt.
“Every town and city has their own unique markets and atmosphere,” Sister Uchtdorf recalled. “You are welcomed by sweet and wonderful smells of gingerbread, spices and all kinds of delicious food.”
Both Sister Uchtdorf and Sister Evans are part of The Christkindlmarkt at This Is The Place Heritage Park’s leadership committee.
At the heart of the Christkindlmarkt tradition is a service project. “Every year, we choose one special service project as a gift to the community,” Sister Evans said. “This year, our service project will focus on the support for refugees and foster families, and everyone again is invited to come and help.”
Sister Evans has fond memories of how her mother made the Advent season “extra special.”
“She was so amazing in decorating, and also a wonderful cook and baker. In Germany, we have special recipes for cookies that are just made for Christmas,” Sister Evans said. “There is even a different name for the word cookie, just for the Christmas cookies. And these recipes that we have had growing up are still the ones that we use today.”
Listen to the Church News podcast with Sister Uchtdorf and her daughter sharing German Christmas traditions
Another tradition is the Advent wreath, a wreath of pine branches with four candles. Each Sunday a new candle is lit: “When all four are shining, we know Christmas is here,” Sister Evans said.
The Advent calendar is another important Christmas tradition in the Uchtdorf family.
“We loved the chocolate Advent calendars, of course, as children, but we even more loved the ones that had a story every day. My mother would read them to us, and these were usually focused on the events around Christ’s birth, or even sometimes stories about kindness and goodness and doing things for one another,” Sister Evans said.
An integral part of any Christmas celebration is traditional Christmas songs. For the Uchtdorfs, “O Tannenbaum” is one such Christmas carol.
“‘O Tannenbaum,’ actually, in its traditional form talks about the pine tree, the evergreen tree, not the decorated Christmas tree,” Sister Evans said. “So when we sing ‘O Tannenbaum,’ we celebrate its loyalty, its steadfastness. … And Christmas is not Christmas without ‘Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht,’ ‘Silent Night.’”
On Christmas Eve, the Uchtdorf family sings carols, reads the account of Christ’s birth in Luke 2, opens presents, and eats potato salad with a special sausage. Then, on Christmas Day, the family enjoys time together and has a Christmas meal that often includes turkey, ”our nod to America and our American influence,” Sister Evans explained, and dumplings and red cabbage.
One of the most important ways that they celebrate is by making sure that traditions do not “overshadow the true meaning of Christmas.”
“This will make it beautiful and unforgettable each year,” Sister Uchtdorf said.
To her, the best way to celebrate Christmas is to follow the example of the Savior and live His gospel by giving and serving others. “I ask myself, ‘How can we be his hands? How can we lift where we stand?’ I am confident that He would keep God’s commandments. He would serve God and He would love and serve those around Him whoever they are.”
When Sister Evans realized that her children’s favorite Christmas memories are always the simple ones, she paused and reflected on how she truly wanted to celebrate Christmas.
“It’s the time spent together. It’s doing something special for others. It’s following the pattern Christ set in His life. It’s those quiet moments. And this is what brings joy and happiness and brings smiles and brings hope and peace at Christmas and throughout the year,” she said.
The message of the birth and life of Christ have the power of healing and peace throughout the year; and especially during the Christmas season, they have the strength to overcome differences, even in challenging times, Sister Uchtdorf said.
“Christ is the light and the hope for all the world, and this is true this Christmas and always.”