Christmas in Germany: The Twelve Days of Christmas
The rest of the Twelve Days of Christmas fall between Christmas and Epiphany. In past times many superstitions attached themselves to this time of year. Many people believed that the Wild Hunt, a band of fierce spirits, rode abroad on these nights. Berchta, a witch-like figure, was also said to wander through German-speaking lands at this time of year. Many of the old folk customs associated with the Twelve Days offered protection from these roaming phantoms. For example, Germans often burned incense as a means of frightening off evil spirits. The Twelve Days were sometimes called the "Smoke Nights” in reference to this custom. Loud noises were believed to ward off evil creatures as well, and many noisemaking customs attached themselves to this season. According to folk tradition, wearing frightening masks and costumes also put evil influences to flight, and in some areas people went from house to house in such garb. In Bavaria women refrained from spinning, baking, washing, and cleaning during the Twelve Days of Christmas, believing it unlucky. For this reason the period became known as the "Twelve Quiet Days.”
The magic of the Twelve Days also extended to fortune-telling. One folk belief cautioned that events that occurred during these twelve days set the pattern for the twelve months to come. For example, rain on the second day of Christmas meant that much rain would fall during February, the second month of the year. Folklore advised young girls to harness the magical properties of the twelve days to see their own futures. They could choose from a number of spells and charms designed to foretell whether or not they would marry in the coming year, and to reveal the identity of their future husbands. For example, the sparks of a fire lit on New Year’s Eve might spell out their future husband’s name, or the entire peel from an apple, tossed over one shoulder might fall in such a pattern as to give a clue to the boy’s identity. These charms were especially popular on New Year’s Eve.