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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German word of the day: Der Barbarazweig 

If you see a spring blossom branch hung up in your German or Austrian friend’s home throughout December, it will likely be a Barbarazweig.

Blackboard shows the words 'der Barbarazweig'
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Der Barbarazweig, translated literally to “Barbara branch”, are branches cut from cherry, apple or plum trees that, according to German Christmas custom, should bloom pretty white flowers just in time for Christmas morning. These bloomed branches will then bring you good luck in the new year. However, if the branch fails to bloom, bad luck will come your way. But where does this legend come from?

Saint Barbara was the daughter of a merchant who was imprisoned due to her father’s disapproval of her conversion to Christianity. On her way to the dungeon, a cherry branch got caught in her dress. Every day of Barbara’s sentence, she provided the cherry branch with lots of water until the day of her execution, when the branch finally bloomed.

While the legend describes a cherry branch, nowadays apple or plum branches are used, as well as other garden shrubs such as blackthorn, forsythia, and hazelnut.

READ ALSO: Seven classic Christmas traditions still taking place in the pandemic

How do you do it?

To ensure a blooming branch on Christmas morning, it is recommended that you cut the branch on December 4th. This also coincides with St. Barbara’s Day or the feast of St. Barbara, which is celebrated in several other Roman Catholic and Anglican countries, such as Italy, France and the UK.

Immediately after cutting off a branch or a few (for extra luck of course), place them in a freezer for around 12 hours, then place them in lukewarm water overnight. Finally, place them in a vase with room temperature water and watch them bloom, making sure to change the water every three to four days.

A cherry blossom tree blooming in Thuringia.
A cherry blossom tree blooming earlier this year in Thuringia. This tradition gives a reminder that spring will come again. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Martin Schutt

The custom also developed into a wedding tradition in German households. Unmarried girls would hang slips of paper with the names of their suitors on the branches. Whichever branch blossomed first was to be chosen as the girl’s husband.

While this tradition isn’t the most well-known – even in Germany it is becoming increasingly uncommon – it is a great way to add a touch of spring bloom to your festive decorations.

Examples:

Vergiss nicht, deinen Barbarazweig zu gießen, sonst haben wir im neuen Jahr Pech.

Make sure to water your Barbarabranch, or we’ll have bad luck in the new year.

Heute ist der vierte Dezember, also ist es schon so weit, einen Barbarazweig abzuschneiden.

Today the fourth of December, so it’s already time to cut off a Barbarabranch.

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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German phrase of the day: Etwas aus dem Ärmel schütteln

Anyone who has ever had to come up with a great idea on the fly can probably relate to this German phrase.

German phrase of the day: Etwas aus dem Ärmel schütteln

Why do I need to know ‘etwas aus dem Ärmel schütteln’? 

Because this versatile phrase can come in handy in a range of situations, from having pulled off a great presentation at short notice to coming up with a spontaneous solution to a problem. 

What does it mean?

Etwas aus dem Ärmel schütteln is similar to the English phrase “to pull something out of a hat” or “to have something up your sleeve”. Literally, the German phrase means to shake something out of your sleeve, but in a figurative sense it describes coming up with a bright idea or pulling something off without planning or effort. 

Generally, shaking something out of your sleeve is what’s required when you’re faced with a tricky situation and you need to quickly think up a solution. It might be that you have to stand in for a colleague in an important meeting at short notice, or rustle up a meal from the scraps in your cupboard after forgetting that supermarkets are closed on Sunday. 

READ ALSO: German phrase of the day: Ich glaub’ mein Schwein pfeift

In a similar sleeve-related vein, the English phrase “off the cuff” shares the same sense of executing a difficult task spontaneously. 

So, why are sleeves so important for getting out of a sticky situation? Well, there are a few theories about that.

The first relates to a cheat in card games: if you’re dealt a bad hand, you can always improve your chances by pulling out a few better cards that may have found their way into your sleeve earlier on. 

Another theory dates back to the times when people would wear long robes or other garments with wide sleeves. This would allow people not only to warm their hands, but also to store small objects they may need up their sleeves, to be “shaken out” when the time was right. 

Use it like this: 

Was kann er jeztz aus dem Ärmel shütteln? 

What has he got up his sleeve now? 

Wenn Marina denkt, den Abschluss aus dem Ärmel schütteln zu können, dann hat sie sich aber gründlich vertan.

If Marina thinks she can just pull the degree out of her sleeve, then she is very much mistaken.

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