Gingerbread Rules & German Tales

When  you live in Germany, you learn that they have a lot of rules. There are rules about recycling, and there are rules about driving. There are rules about being quiet, and not being quiet. There are rules about what you can eat and when you can eat it. For example in this area, a very common and well-known rule involves Carp, or as I like to call it “one of those gross, bottom-feeding fish.” Carp is extremely popular here in Franconia, but it can ONLY be consumed during months with an ‘r’ in the name. So if you like Carp, you better get your fill of it in April because you won’t find it in a restaurant again until September. Not happening.

As a non-German living in Germany, you have to take a lot of things on faith. This means that when someone tells me something that seems slightly odd, but says it’s a rule, I just go with it. Because who would tell me stories? That would be weird and pointless, right?

This brings us to gingerbread. In Nürnberg, it’s known as Lebkuchen and woo boy, is it big business this time of year. The city is famous for it, which means that once the Christmas market opens, you can’t swing a cat in this town without knocking over a display of it. Lebkuchen can of course be purchased all year round, and in fact, there was a whole Lebkuchen Week market set up in the middle of the city back in October. I thought that was a little strange, but BV assured me that it was mostly for the tourists.

Because you see, there was a rule about Lebkuchen.

For the three years that we’ve been dating, BV has been telling me that real Germans, and especially real Nürnbergers, don’t eat Lebkuchen until after St. Martin’s Day, or Martinstag, which is on November 11th. St. Martin’s Day also marks the beginning of the Carnival season, so it made total sense to me that the delicious gingerbread would be something you would eat at that time. But then… oh but then.

Kids… BV IS TELLING ME TALES.

That’s right, the war on cookies continues!

About two weeks ago in one of my classes, the topic of odd rules came up again. During the discussion, I mentioned something about the Lebkuchen rule, and was met with total blank stares. They had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. We went through a few other rules, which everyone agreed on, but not one had heard about anything involving gingerbread and St. Martin’s Day.

It could be a fluke, I thought, especially given that I wasn’t actually in Nürnberg that day. Perhaps outside of town it wasn’t given the correct amount of gravitas? Could be.

So I decided to take a survey. Since then, I have asked every single one of my students, and not a one… NOT A ONE knows about this “rule.” The age range of my students is from 20-65+, and they cover a significant part of Franconia when it comes to places they live/have lived before. And not a single, solitary one of them knows this rule.

When I confronted BV with this information, he did not believe me. He stuck to his guns, insisting that it was a rule and that my students must simply be confused. I’m not sure there’s a ton of room for confusion on this matter, but he didn’t budge. I posited that it was perhaps only a rule in his house, put forth by his  mother to keep the kids from eating too many sweets, but he brushed that off. It’s a rule and that is the end of the story.

Fine then honey, it’s a rule.

On St. Martin’s Day, I stopped into the store on my way home from work and purchased a small container of Lebkuchen. After dinner, I dramatically retrieved it, smacked it down on the coffee table and said, “and you shall not have any!”*

lebkuchen

But from now on, if I get the urge to indulge in a chocolaty, frosty, tasty piece of Lebkuchen and it’s “off-season,” fake rules be damned. I’m going for it.

 

Have you heard of this “rule”? Can you defend BV?

 

*That was mostly for dramatic effect. Don’t worry mom and dad, I shared.

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33 thoughts on “Gingerbread Rules & German Tales

  1. Hah, this sounds like my mother’s rule that singing Christmas carols before December is bad luck…

    According to my colleague, Lebkuchen can be eaten after 6th September because that’s her birthday and her best friend always gives her a big bag of it as a gift. Seems too early to me, but each to their own.

    • I’m with your mother on that one, but I would actually extend it to Christmas carols on any day besides Christmas Day is bad luck. (This is what happens when you have worked in retail and basically break out in hives when forced to listen to Christmas music for 6 straight weeks. Ugh.)
      Your colleague found a good exception, sounds like. 🙂

  2. Having grown up near Bamberg I never heard of this rule. Well at that time Lebkuchen wouldn’t have been available before the end of November anyway. Nowadays you will find them in the shops shortly after summer vacation (and in my mind this is inappropriate since Lebkuchen are definitely a thing of christmas time.)

    • Thanks Zyriacus! I do also think that Lebkuchen goes better with the Christmas season, but I’m happy to know that if I get a craving for Dominosteine in July, I won’t be struck down by the Gods of German Rules. 🙂

  3. I asked my Swabian husband about this, and he had not heard of “No Lebkuchen before Martinstag” rule. He hadn’t heard of the bottom feeder rule either, but when I said carp apparently can only be eaten in months containing Rs, he said, “Ok, then it’s like the shellfish and mussels rule.” He went on to explain (of course)… That rule goes back to the days when people didn’t have refrigerators or freezers for preserving food, and during the months without Rs (May – August), it was hotter and food rotted faster. Those rules fester in people’s brains and get passed down through the generations. It once made sense for hygienic reasons. Now it’s tradition!

    • Praise your husband! 🙂
      Many Germans don’t know why this tradition exists.
      Other reasons seem to be: the carps are full grown in autumn; in summer there are some algae in the sea not beneficial for mussels flesh.

    • Thanks to your husband, Ami! We’ve talked a bit about the shellfish rule as well, and you are absolutely correct about the origins of it. BV always says that it also has to do (at least for the carp), with letting them grow over the summer months as well. He usually doesn’t go for mussels/shellfish in general unless we’re a bit more sea-adjacent, but he loves the carp so that rule gets a bit more discussion around here.

  4. I have not heard about this rule either. But I grew up in Saarland so maybe that’s too far away from Bavaria. I do know lots of people who do not eat any Christmassy stuff before 1. Advent though.

  5. on the rules front, ask him if it’s ok to reheat spinach that you’ve already cooked before (like in a spinach lasagna). There’s a weird rule about it being super dangerous in Germany that I’ve never heard anywhere else.

    I reheat my spinach boldly as a result and haven’t had any problems with it.

    • Huh, I have never heard that one before and neither has BV. I would think that would’ve come up last week since we had Hokkaido pumpkin/spinach lasagna for three days straight. Plus, what about all the frozen, pre-cooked spinach they sell? Mysteries…

  6. There is no such rule…or at least I’ve never heard of it. Sure, Lebkuchen are a seasonal thing, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with seasonal foods, it makes you appreciate them more, and, where food is concerned, there’s usually a concrete (nature-related) reason to their seasonality, rather than being a rule for rule’s sake…

    One month to go and I’ll be in Lebkuchenland. Can’t wait!!

  7. My grandma was a real Nürnbergerin, my mother is a real Nürnbergerin and I’m a real Nürnberger: never heard of this Lebkuchen- ‘rule’. Urban legend?
    Btw: my mother in law is Bavarian and my wifey is Bavarian. Both never heard of the ‘rule’ how to wear the bow of the Dirndl- apron. Munich tourist shi … stuff?
    There are (was) good reasons to avoid carps (and mussels) in summer (months without an ‘r’). This is not a “rule”, its tradition! Hardly to understand isn’t?

    • Hi and thanks for commenting JoSch! I’m glad to hear from a real, multi-generational Nürnberger on this one. 🙂 I’m not even sure we can call it an Urban Legend though, I really do think this is a BV-specific rule. Poor guy… suffering until Martinstag every year while the rest of the town just eats Lebkuchen whenever they want.
      Very strange about the Dirndl-apron, I wonder when that ‘rule’ came into fashion?
      Very true about the carp. Rule/tradition, same difference, I think, just avoid them in summer!

      • Maybe your BVs mother prohibits the self- fattening of her son with tons of Lebkuchen (contains 0.0% of ginger) by feign this tale?
        I don’t like carp, Lebkuchen or Glühwein in the summer. But we like dishes like cozze alla tarantina, so we buy the frozen mussels even in months without “r”.
        P.S.: You can buy Lebkuchen in Nürnberg all year long by Haeberlein-Metzger, Schöller or Lebkuchen- Schmidt.

      • That was one of my first thoughts, but BV’s mom was the ‘good cop’ so to speak, so I don’t think that was her motivation. 😉 There are also quite a few stands that sell it all year ’round in the market, if you get the craving (or need some to send in a gift, which is what we usually do.)

  8. Pingback: Lebkuchen, oh dear Lebkuchen, how I long for you | Kountry Style

  9. Heather, this is a great post and hilarious. Lately I think I actually just getting used to living here and forgetting to notice and write down all the funny differences and especially the “Rules” so this really made me laugh. My other favorite rules are about what foods you are allowed to eat together in Franconia, for example according to my German, you would never serve sauer kraut and blau kraut on the same plate and never blau kraut with bratwurst. Oh good lord!

  10. Unfortunately i have found a Franconian cooking side accentuates the “rule” solely to eat Christmas sweats between St. Martin’s Day and Epiphany. Something for the ultraorthodox Franconians I’m glad not to be 🙂

    • Haha. B always says it’s strange to make your own sweets except for at Christmas time… hence his telling me that it’s weird that sometimes I want to bake cookies. Funny that you say that the Franconians are ultra-religious though… usually my students always joke that it’s the Bavarians from further south who are the really religious ones! Love all the regional rivalries though. 🙂

    • Haha. B always says it’s strange to make your own sweets except for at Christmas time… hence his telling me that it’s weird that sometimes I want to bake cookies. Funny that you say that the Franconians are ultra-religious though… usually my students always joke that it’s the Bavarians from further south who are the really religious ones! Love all the regional rivalries though. 🙂

      • Yes, the Bavarians are the harder orthodox ones; in religious, ethnic and national ranges.
        Oh well, if we Frankonians could be like the rebellious Scotsmen… 😉

  11. Pingback: Franconian Fish Are Sexy | Heather Goes to Deutschland

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