446px-Christkindlesmarkt_nuernbergAnyone who’s ever been to a Christmas market knows how important the holiday season is in Germany. After World War 2, the Germans celebrated the first peaceful Christmases any way they could. They lived in a world of shortages and destruction, but they — and the Allies in Germany — did what they could to spread a little cheer in hard times.

It wasn’t easy. Winter 1945 was known as a turnip winter. There wasn’t much food to go around, and the traditional Christmas feast was out of the question for most people. A year later, things were even worse. In December 1946, temperatures dropped to minus 20C in parts of Germany. People died of cold and hunger, though far fewer than expected considering the living conditions.

Despite the challenges, there were Christmas concerts and parties. The Allies sponsored events for children and donated food and sweets. Shops lucky enough to have window glass dressed them with tinsel and bulbs and wished their customers a Merry Christmas.

Ruth Andreas Friedrich, a Berlin journalist, wrote in her diary on December 21, 1946:

“What do you think of a Christmas tree?” Frank asked me this morning.

“A lot,” I said, “but unfortunately, there aren’t any. Unless you have a certificate that proves you have lots of children or were a Victim of Fascism.”

Frank laughed. “Or if you have a saw.”

Germans who did cut down trees in surrounding forests — illegally. The Allies controlled who harvested trees, where and when.

Christmas was (and is) a season of hope. The Germans in the postwar era needed this reminder that humanity had a future in peace, not in the violence of the inhuman war their country had started and lost.

Photo: Nuremberg Christmas Market, by Roland Berger via http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en Wikimedia Commons