“The baby Jesus was Jewish. This was both a problem and a provocation for the Nazis,” explained Judith Breuer, who organised the exhibition using the items she and her mother collected at flea markets over 30 years. “The most popular Christian festival of the year did not fit in with their racist ideology. They had to react and they did so by trying to make it less Christian.”
The regime’s exploitation of Christmas began almost as soon as the Nazis took power in 1933. Party ideologists wrote scores of papers claiming that the festival’s Christian element was a manipulative attempt by the church to capitalise on what were really old Germanic traditions. Christmas Eve, they argued, had nothing to do with Christ but was the date of the winter solstice – the Nordic Yuletide that was “the holy night in which the sun was reborn”.
The swastika, they claimed, was an ancient symbol of the sun that represented the struggle of the Great German Reich. Father Christmas had nothing to do with the bearded figure in a red robe who looked like a bishop: the Nazis reinvented him as the Germanic Norse god Odin, who, according to legend, rode about the earth on a white horse to announce the coming of the winter solstice. Propaganda posters in the exhibition show the “Christmas or Solstice man” as a hippie-like individual on a white charger sporting a thick grey beard, slouch hat and a sack full of gifts.
But the star that traditionally crowns the Christmas tree presented an almost insurmountable problem. “Either it was the six-pointed star of David, which was Jewish, or it was the five-pointed star of the Bolshevik Soviet Union,” said Mrs Breuer. “And both of them were anathema to the regime.” So the Nazis replaced the star with swastikas, Germanic “sun wheels” and the Nordic “sig runes” used by the regime’s fanatical Waffen SS as their insignia.
Housewives were encouraged to bake biscuits in similar shapes. One of the exhibits is a page from a Nazi women’s magazine with a baking recipe: “Every boy will want to bake a sig (SS) rune,” proclaims the accompanying text.
The Nazification of Christmas did not end there. The Christmas tree crib was replaced by a Christmas garden containing wooden toy deer and rabbits. Mary and Jesus became the Germanic mother and child, while dozens of Christmas carols, including the famous German hymn “Silent Night”, were rewritten with all references to God, Christ and religion expunged. At the height of the anti-Christian campaign, an attempt was made to replace the coming of Christ the Saviour with the coming of Adolf Hitler – the “Saviour Führer.”
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