Christmas in the Reich

Matt Soniak has posted a fascinating article at Mental Floss about Christmas in Nazi Germany.

Wherever possible, in both public and private spheres, Christmas’ religious aspects were de-emphasized and replaced with nationalistic and pagan symbolism. “People’s Christmas trees,” were erected in many towns and cities with the traditional star topper replaced by swastikas, Germanic “sun wheels” or the Nordic “sig runes” used by the SS as their insignia.

These trees became the subject of numerous Christmas carols rewritten with no reference to Christ or religion, as well as the focal point of Christmas celebrations, events and activities organized by like the Hitler Youth, the League of German Women and the German Workers Front and the state. The Nazi Party organized massive celebrations across the country where the Hitler Youth reenacted solstice rituals and soldiers swore “oaths of fire” before huge bonfires. Joseph Goebbels often appeared at celebrations like this at the tree in Berlin, handing out presents to children like a jackbooted Santa Claus.

Santa, of course, still existed in Nazified form, as someone had to bring gifts to good National Socialist children. Instead of St. Nick in the red robe of a bishop, though, he came in the form of the Norse god Odin, riding around the planet on a white horse to announce the coming of the winter solstice. Presents were still exchanged among families, friends and co-worker, sometimes with a depraved twist: the special Yule lanterns that SS leader Heinrich Himmler handed out as gifts to his officers were made by the inmates at the Dachau concentration camp.

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