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German New Years traditions celebrated by Helen, Sautee-Nacoochee residents
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A cinnamon stick is added to the gluewein recipe/ - photo by Erin O. Smith

Gluewein

  • 1 (750 milliliter) bottle red wine
  • 3⁄4 cup water 
  • 3⁄4 cup white sugar 
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 orange
  • 10 whole cloves

Boil water, sugar and cinnamon stick in a saucepan. Reduce to a simmer.
Squeeze orange juice into simmering water. Push cloves into orange peel and add to water.
Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, until thick.
Add wine and heat until steaming but not simmering. Serve in hot mugs or glasses.
Serves 6.
Courtesy of Food.com

Frohes neues jahr! That’s German for Happy New Year.

It’s something you’ll likely hear Jan. 1 in White County as area residents with German backgrounds gather to celebrate their heritage and preserve the traditions of their country.

Like many cultures, German New Year’s traditions are closely linked with food, but what type of food depends on where your family calls home.

“Each region of Germany has different traditions,” said Dottie Johnson, a Sautee Nacoochee resident whose parents are from Eastern Germany.

Her father was from a city called Leipzig. Her mother was from the East German city of Breslau, which is now Wroclaw, Poland.

In her family, traditional New Year’s food was fish, such as carp, herring or trout, which was said to bring good luck in the new year. While types of fish and preparations varied, Johnson said her family always adhered to one rule.

“No poultry,” she said. “Whoever eats poultry on New Year’s Eve loses happiness.”

Other foods eaten to bring good luck were sauerkraut or red cabbage, braided pretzel bread and a soup made from legumes. Johnson said as a child she hated eating fish and soup, but now the dishes are some of her favorites.

“Like Southerners have black eyed peas, Germans have soup with lentils, beans or peas,” she said. “It’s supposed to bring blessings.”

Like Johnson, Helen resident Elke Snyder said her family also ate fish to celebrate New Year’s. But her most popular treat of the day has a little more kick.

Snyder said it is traditional in her region of Germany to make gluewein, a citrusy mulled wine, on New Year’s Day. Snyder is from a town outside Heidelberg in southwest Germany.

The drink, popular throughout Germany and Austria, is made by simmering water and sugar with oranges and cloves then adding a dry, burgundy wine.

“It’s cold like hell over there in Germany, so we drink gluewein anytime in the winter,” Snyder said. “It’s a drink that is not high in alcohol content, so it’s something that the whole family can enjoy.”

Snyder, whp moved to the United States in 1958 at age 16, still makes gluewein for her family and friends during the holiday season to keep the traditions of her homeland close.

But not all New Year’s celebrations in Germany are edible. In the Black Forest region of Germany, where Snyder is from, an old tradition for ringing the new year involves carving small wooden figures to chase bad spirits away, she said.

Johnson described another non-food tradition celebrated by her friends from Berlin. In a New Year’s Eve ceremony known as bleigiessen, a person would melt lead in a spoon over a candle and drop it into a glass of water.

The shape they saw in the hardened lead determined what their prospects were for the coming year. For example, seeing an egg represented a growing family, while a hat was a symbol of good news to come. 

Both Johnson, a longtime volunteer with the Helen Chamber of Commerce, and Snyder, a Helen resident since 1978, look forward to the city’s annual German New Year’s celebration at the Festhalle, 1074 Edelweiss Strasse. The celebration includes the “dropping of the edelweiss,” a large orb painted with an edelweiss flower created by Helen residents Josef and Helga Mahler.

Snyder said she has attended the dropping of the edelweiss every year since its inception four years ago. While the celebration includes German food, music and dancing, she said the edelweiss drop is a reflection of American influence.

“The dropping of anything is American,” she said.  “But it’s a nice blend of American and German cultures.”

Snyder said the event is a great place for children and families to gather and celebrate the new year while experiencing the traditions and tastes of another culture.

For more information about the festivites, visit www.helenchamber.com or call 706-878-1908.

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