Among the many ideologies professed by the Nazi Party, a disdain and rejection of religion were among the chiefest. As Germany fell under the control of the Third Reich, religion was seen as a true "opiate of the masses" and a distraction from the true loyalty to the state that all Germans should have.[caption id="attachment_9347" align="alignleft" width="210"]
Hitler looking at a Christmas tree (German Propganda Archive, Calvin College)[/caption]However, the leaders of the Third Reich had a bit of a conundrum when it came to Christmas. On the one hand, it was clearly a religious holiday, celebrating a god of Jewish origin that was the "Prince of Peace." It shouldn't be celebrated. On the other, Christmas was arguably the most German holiday in existence, and it was tied deeply into their culture. German influence on how the holiday was celebrated abounded; Christmas trees, Advent wreaths, gingerbread, all these traditions are German in origin. There are those that would argue that the tradition of gift giving at Christmas started with Martin Luther, a German man. Christmas was deeply tied to the feeling of national identity and pride. How would the Nazis reconcile this war of ideologies?Hitler ultimately created a new vision for the holiday; a secularized celebration based on ancient German culture.
The New Reason For the Season
At first, the integration was slower and softer. Nativity scenes depicted Mary, Joseph, and Jesus as blond haired, blue eyed figures, often accompanied by party leaders. Then, things took a step further, with banners in Berlin that read, “Down with a Christ who allows himself to be crucified! The German God cannot be a suffering God! He is a God of power and strength!” Once schools and the Protestant church fell under Nazi control, hymns were altered and any Hebrew terms were removed - no Hossanah or Hallelujah in any song or text. Propaganda abounded, comparing the solstice and return of the sun after winter to the German's forthcoming victory.[caption id="attachment_9344" align="aligncenter" width="589"]
"All nature is a gigantic struggle between strength and weakness, an eternal victory of the strong over the weak." —Adolf Hitler (German Propganda Archive, Calvin College)[/caption]Culturally, the Nazi party didn't have to work very hard to convince the general masses of this new kind of celebration. Völkisch movements, hyper-patriotic groups that sought to create a unique German identity without the influence of other cultures, were already working very hard to redefine popular customs using German history as a road map. It was this pre-Christian, Nordic influence that the groups used to redefine the holiday. Nazi ideologists (and even a few genuine pagans in their company) professed that many Christian traditions were simply superimposed over ancient German practices; Christmas Eve was simply the ancient celebration of the Winter Solstice and the rebirth of the sun; swastikas and sig runes (the symbol of the SS) were used symbolizing that rebirth, even on top of the "Yule trees" in public squares. Santa was out as well; instead, Odin would be the figure delivering toys to young German boys and girls.Under this new ideology, "Stille Nacht" became another anthem for the Fuhrer:
“Silent night, Holy night,
All is calm, all is bright.
Only the Chancellor stays on guard
Germany’s future to watch and to ward,
Guiding our nation aright.”
Christm- uh, Julfest, 1941
[caption id="attachment_9343" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]
Nazi officers listen to a speech during the Yule celebration of 1941 (rarehistoricalphotos.com)[/caption]December 18th, 1941 was the night of a large party for Hitler and his party members. While World War II raged on, the Nazis sat down in Munich and celebrated over a feast honoring the Reich.Heinrich Himmler had presents for his officers; "Yule lanterns," a kind of ornate candle. Some were made by the prisoners at Dachau. They were his tokens of appreciation for a hard year's work.Outside the party, the newly watered down holiday was being celebrated. "Advent" calendars focused on the solstice and military victories. Housewives were encouraged to make biscuits in the shapes of swastikas and other pagan symbols for their families. The Hitler Youth reenacted solstice rituals. Soldiers danced and swore "Oaths of fire" in front of large bonfires, denouncing materialism and corruption of German culture and uplifting the values of reverence, commitment, and cultivation of the German nation. Families took candles and lit them in these fires, bringing the lights back to their own Yule trees at home.
Shops and magazines for German goods were filled with toy SS soldiers, fighter planes, machine guns, and tanks. Reichsmarschall Herman Göring had worked to stock stores full of food and goods from occupied countries, to keep the populace happy. Any remaining churchgoers were openly harassed, and seen as disloyal to the state. Even soldiers on the front lines celebrated the new, religion-free version. For a few short years, it looked like the Reich had succeeded where the often failed - they had completely redesigned a holiday.[caption id="attachment_9346" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]
Officers and cadets begin their dinner. (rarehistoricalphotos.com)[/caption]
The End of the War
As war trudged on and the German forces began to feel their forces weaken, the idea of Christmas became far more Macabre.The previously indignant attitude toward religion in the German populace turned on its head when defeat and destruction became imminent. Germans began attending church in larger and larger droves, driven by anxiety and depression after losing loved ones in the war, and the loss of faith in the Reich's superiority. In response the Nazi's attempted a further redesign of the end-of-year celebration, turning it instead into a day to remember the dead.Propaganda turned to honor fallen soldiers. The Advent calendar of 1944 contained poems describing their ghosts visiting homes to celebrate, including this one:
Once a year, in the holy night,
the dead soldiers leave the watch, which they stand for Germany 's future,
they come into the house, to see in order and order,
to enter into the festive space. If the nailed boot is barely heard,
you will hardly hear it- they will stand still to father and mother and child,
but they will feel that they are expected guests:
There is a candle on the fir tree for her At the table set, the wine is glowing in the darkness.
When the candles at the light-tree were burned to the end, the dead soldier laid the earth-encrusted hand
softly on the young head of the children:
"We died for you because we believed in Germany."
By then, there wasn't very much Christmas spirit left in the country. Within just a few more months, the pseudo-pagan holiday had crumbled alongside the Third Reich.