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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 word of the day: Mahlzeit

Use this greeting around meal times - especially in the workplace - or to charm your German speaking friends.

German word of the day: Mahlzeit

Why do I need to know Mahlzeit?

Although a bit old-school, this word is still commonly used as a general greeting in Germany as well as Austria, particularly around lunch time. 

What does it mean?

Die Mahlzeit (which sounds like this) is made up of the words Mahl – meal – and Zeit – time, so it refers to the time that you eat (meal time), although it’s not strictly limited to that.

It is often used as a general greeting around lunchtime (say, 11am until 2pm). You might use it with your colleagues, for instance, when you are heading out or returning from a lunch break. Although it’s colloquial, it may also be heard in casual restaurants or inns in more traditional parts of Germany and Austria. 

If you’re having a bite to eat in a public place, like a train station or forest, friendly strangers might also shout this greeting at you as they’re walking past (at least that’s happened a few times in our experience).

But it doesn’t actually matter whether someone is eating or not – the greeting can be used when no food is involved. However, like we mentioned above, it is usually used around the typical meal time period.

Note that in Germany it’s best to use this word with people you know (acquaintances, colleagues or friends) or in relaxed settings. Don’t use it in a very professional business meeting, for example (unless your boss does).

It’s very common in western and southern Germany, but you’ll hear it all over the country. 

Our sister site The Local Austria reports that in Austria, people also typically say “Mahlzeit” when settling down to a meal at home, including the evening meal and at the weekend, so it’s not just for the workplace.

READ ALSO: What ‘Mahlzeit’ means – and how to use it in Austria

German language experts say it’s actually a tricky word to sum up.

“A simple ‘Guten Appetit!’ does not fully capture the meaning,” said BedeutungOnline while trying to explain the phrase. “By using the expression, you wish each other a nice, relaxed lunchtime, a relaxing break from daily chores and a tasty meal.”

The phrase dates back to the 19th century. Originally, it was custom to wish someone a Gesegnete Mahlzeit! (blessed meal). The abbreviated form – Mahlzeit – was found in the Wörterbuch of the Brothers Grimm which was published in 1854.

Use it like this: 

Simply say this to greet someone: Mahlzeit! 

If someone says it to you, you can say: Mahlzeit back.

If you are eating, it is meant to translate to “enjoy your meal” so you can also reply by saying thank you: Danke! or vielen Dank!

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