Over the past couple years I have been taking an informal survey of why Americans like Thanksgiving more than any other holiday. Beyond the fact that football can be seen on TV from noon to midnight, the reasons Americans like Thanksgiving so much is it has no religious connotations attached to it, and it can be simply a celebration of family and friends.
Who are we kidding? It is all about the food! And that food, traditionally was nearly the same everywhere. Roast turkey with stuffing, potatoes and gravy, mom’s green bean casserole, you know the one, with cream of mushroom soup on top of the “French style” or “French cut”, finished with the dry roasted onions like we here in Munich eat on our Schwäbische Spätzle. Yes, the Swabian Spätzle. The only one to eat.
Thanksgiving tables almost always have cranberry sauce (nice now to see German cranberries in the stores!), maybe sweet potatoes, and most definitely a pumpkin pie at the end, with whipped cream, of course.
The Bavarians did not invent Christmas celebrations, but they do come damn close to having all the traditions one would expect when we think of a traditional Catholic and Protestant Christmas. Close to the Alps, with the necessary snow, correct trees for woodworking and Christmas trees, and good Gluhwein and Lebkuchen (gingerbread).
But why do the Bavarians eat sausages and potato salad on the night of the 24th of December? They can eat it on any other day of the year, and in fact they eat enough sausages and potatoes, each with numerous variations, so one could eat a different combination every day of the year if they so desired.
The Pinkel has some grain and bacon in it, and they say that each butcher has his own recipe, which is a closely kept guarded secret.
I have never met a Bavarian who says he likes Grünkohl. Whether the Bavarians eat it in private is between the man and his Pinkel.
The former Sudetenland and Silesian Germans often eat carp for Christmas, a tradition borrowed from the Poles, Slovaks, Slovenian, and Czech peoples. Bavarians will not touch the fish, generally, and as far as they are concerned, since the tradition was borrowed from the Slavs, it should be returned to them post-haste.
Many Bavarians eat simple sausages and potato salad on Christmas Eve. There can be numerous reasons for this epicurean extravaganza. Some say they are eaten because it is easy to make and clean up afterwards. Others believe that it can feed everyone as much as they want, which is very economical (another very German trait). I mean, who does not like hotdogs and potato salad?
The historian says that back in the days after the war, pick any war, but the Second World War especially, the meat budget was eaten up on what was to be eaten on the 25th and 26th, so the cheapest thing to eat in Germany at ANY time, is wieners and potato salad. Meat for three days!
Bavaria’s food, which consists mainly of many slowly roasted meats, soured cabbage and balls of dough smothered in a sauce, takes a night off on the day before Christmas. The economical and ubiquitous hot dogs and potato salad become the food of choice for many, perhaps most Bavarians.