Weird History

What Was Christmas Like In Nazi Germany? 

Genevieve Carlton
10.7k views 11 items

Nazi Christmas wasn't a warm and fuzzy holiday – it was a celebration of Aryan superiority and Nazi dominance, wrapped up in the likeness of Christmas. There are a number of mysteries still surrounding the Nazis, but the mystery of Nazi Christmas has been solved: it was all about promoting Hitler and the Nazi Party.

Nazi Christmas ornaments featured swastikas, and they tried to replace Santa with Odin. The Nazis also tried to rename Christmas “Julfest,” or Yuletide, to avoid references to Christianity. Nazi Julfest promoted soldiers, German blood, and “community fires.” They even changed the words of "Silent Night" to praise Hitler.

Christmas in Nazi Germany was a propaganda opportunity, where holiday cheer could serve a nationalist agenda. Nazis in the United States might have even celebrated in the same style. By twisting Christmas to replace Jesus with Hitler and Nazi symbols, the Nazis corrupted the holiday for their own evil purposes.

They Couldn't Celebrate A Jewish Man's Birth, So They Turned Christmas Into A Different Type Of Celebration
They Couldn't Celebrate ... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list What Was Christmas Like In Nazi Germany?
Photo:  Hugo Jaeger/Contributor/The LIFE Picture Collection

The party did not want to celebrate the birth of a Middle Eastern Jew (also known as Jesus). Instead, they saw Christmas as an opportunity to “mobilize the spiritual or emotional strengths of the community for National Socialism.”

Propagandist Hannes Kremer explored how to co-opt Christmas for the group's purposes in his 1937 article “New Meanings for ‘Inherited’ Customs?” He suggested that Christmas was nothing more than an excuse to promote national unity. “Both according to popular custom and popular view, the Christmas holiday can justifiably be seen as a festival of the nation.”

Christmas was re-imagined as a celebration of soldiers, the group's ideals, and Hitler. 

Hitler’s 1921 Christmas Speech Was All About The Jews
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Photo: Ras67/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

From very early on, Hitler saw Christmas as an opportunity to blend holiday cheer with nationalist propaganda and anti-Semitism. In a speech in 1921 just after he was appointed party leader, Hitler condemned “the cowardly Jews for breaking the world-liberator on the cross.” He then swore “not to rest until the Jews... lay shattered on the ground.”

Not exactly a traditional Christmas message. But the speech was followed by holiday carols, gifts, and a Christmas tree. Hitler realized the power of using the holiday to promote his agenda. 

They Used Christmas To Gain Influence Over Germans With Money And Food
They Used Christmas To G... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list What Was Christmas Like In Nazi Germany?
Photo: Ras67/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

The Third Reich used Christmas as an opportunity to win over Germans in the 1930s. In the early years of their rule, the party set up a program to distribute money and goods to poor families every December. Youth members collected donations for families suffering during the Great Depression – and took credit for the gifts. 

 

Several Christmas Traditions Were Changed
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Photo:  Hugo Jaeger/Contributor/The LIFE Picture Collection

The party renamed Christmas “Julfest,” or Yuletide, and claimed that the holiday was not about Christianity at all – it was a Germanic festival to celebrate the winter solstice. 

Christmas, according to the Germans in charge at that time, had nothing to do with Jesus – it was all about the “rebirth of the Sun” at the winter solstice. To properly celebrate the holiday,  propagandist Wilhelm Beilstein suggested a “community fire” that would grow “from the spark of the worldview that the Führer lit in our hearts.”