To celebrate the holiday, the bar will host the Concord Singers, a German men’s choir, on Christmas Eve. The cocktail of the night is obvious: Schell’s limited-edition holiday beer. This year, the special flavor is Biere de Noel. The light amber beer has a French connection, but remember, Christmas is the time to let go of centuries-old grudges and, as the German drinking song goes, “Zicke zacke zicke zacke heu heu heu!”
In Germanic communities on this and the other side of the Atlantic, Christmas celebrations start early (on St. Nicholas Day, Dec. 6) and power through the New Year, wrapping up on Three Kings Day on Jan. 6.
“We don’t celebrate Christmas like the Americans,” said Marlene Domeier, owner of Domeier’s German Store, “who, the day after Christmas, toss the tree out the door.”
The shop, which Marlene’s mother opened in 1934, crams German gifts and treats onto every flat surface. Spotting Marlene among the cuckoo clocks, Advent calendars, beer steins, glass-blown ornaments and nutcrackers is harder than finding Waldo in a busy streetscape.
I asked Marlene for help in arranging a German Christmas at my apartment. She led me directly to the cookie aisle, pulling out anise-flavored pfeffernusse; the gingerbread-like lebkuchen; spekulatius, a spicy butter cookie with pressed images; and, of course, stollen, which is served for breakfast and with afternoon coffee. By happenstance, I was at Domeier’s when the clocks started cuckooing at 3 p.m., kaffeetrinken time. Marlene, the perfect German American hostess, set the table with instant coffee and stollen. After she cleared the plates, I shared an American tradition with her: a bearhug of gratitude.
When the Swiss settlers arrived in New Glarus in 1845, their eyes popped at the familiar landscape of rolling hills and deep valleys. They must have been exhausted after their long trip, because compared with the Swiss Alps, the Wisconsin area’s earthen bumps are like lumps of sugar.
“They settled here. They thrived here,” said Beth Zurbuchen, president of the Swiss Center of North America in New Glarus. “They made it Switzerland.”
The sylvan town, about 30 miles south of Madison, looks the part, even during a freak December rainstorm. The shops, hotels and restaurants snuggle inside chalet-style buildings with gabled roofs, painted floral ornamentation and balconies that hold flower boxes in sunnier weather. Retail signs lasso people indoors with promises of cheese, chocolate, raclette and fondue. Whimsical painted statues of Swiss cows add an agrarian accent to the town, without the mess.