What were your favorite Christmas presents this year? The best gifts I found under the tree were handmade.
Resting atop a cozy knitted hood, this lovely bird embroidered on an Irish linen hankie is just as elegant as the penman’s Spencerian flourish in Mabel Leigh Hunt’s Lucinda, A Little Girl of 1860 that inspired it.
This oilcloth placemat with trailers on it is perfect for pretending I’m Frances, the sing-songy little badger from Russell and Lillian Hoban’s picture books who unpacks her lunch box, arranges the contents neatly on her desk, and takes one bite of everything in order so that everything comes out even.
Imagine how long it took to embroider the hundreds of French knots on this festive felt house for my Nisse, the Christmas creature who protects Scandinavian homes.
Then there are those extra-special gifts that are hand-crafted in Germany. Alle meine Vöglein couldn’t be a more perfect addition to my collection of flaxen-haired Werkstätten Flade miniatures from the Erzebirge mountains. After chickening out of two Christmas Bird Counts because of nasty weather, this is more like how I’ll be watching birds until spring arrives.
Since 1994, Dresden, Germany has held a festival to celebrate its version of Stollen, the mouth-watering Christmas cake filled with almond paste, studded with citron, brushed with butter and dusted with sugar. Held on the second Saturday in Advent, the festival features a giant Stollen measuring over six feet long and weighing almost four tons. It is carried on a large horse-drawn wagon in a parade through the Old Town streets that ends at the Striezelmarkt, the Christmas market that has been taking place in Dresden since 1434. Amid the booths selling traditional Saxon handcrafts and toys, a huge Christmas pyramid, and the world’s biggest Schwibbogen, the enormous Stollen is cut with a five-and-a-half-foot long, 26-pound knife and is sold in pieces best washed down with a mug of steaming Glühwein.
One of the most popular features of the festival is the Dresden Stollen Maiden. Every year, the Dresden Stollen Association chooses a lady to represent it for a year of festivals and special events. Besides giving the starting signal for the annual baking of the giant Stollen, she opens the Dresden Stollen Festival as its patron.
Dresden Stollen Maiden candidates are female bakers, pastry chefs, or sales trainees in their second year of study at the Dresden Vocational School for Agriculture and Nutrition who have to pass a proficiency exam testing their knowledge of Stollen.
In honor of this tradition, Miriquidi Art of Mulda, Germany created a handcrafted smoker figurine representing the Dresden Stollen Maiden. Fire up a tiny cone of almond-scented incense, place it inside, and smoke rises from a little hole in the Stollen, making it appear like steam rising from the freshly baked treat. Even the style of her outfit and her shoes are authentic!
My Dresden Stollen Maiden came with a loaf of Stollen made from King Arthur Flour’s Stollen kit, another handmade treat in which I’ll be indulging tomorrow morning. It’s perfect with a mug of hot chocolate and a Neapolitan marshmallow, a confection we made in our kitchen this holiday season.
For more information about the Dresden Stollen Festival, see “Dresden’s Stollen Moments” in the December/January 2013 issue of German Life.