Background: The Nazis set about establishing their own rituals and holidays immediately after taking power. This interesting article from the party journal for such matters discusses what to do with existing holidays and rituals, most of which had a Christian basis. It suggests that holidays such as Christmas can be given new content, turning them into Nazi holidays rather than religous ones. For examples on how this turned out, see the GPA pages on Advent 1943 and Christmas 1944.
The source: Hannes Kremer, “Neuwertung ‘überlieferter’ Brauchformen?”, in Die neue Gemeinschaft, 3 (1937), pp. 3005 a-c.
by Hannes Kremer
In our efforts to deepen National Socialist forms of behavior in the area of rituals and ceremonies, we have two main tasks. On the one hand, we must create new ideas and new customs, and on the other hand it is necessary to adjust those customs that have grown out of the people to the “new community of the Germans,” which means giving these inherited customs a new content consistent with the people’s community (Volksgemeinschaft).
That is clear when we look at the annual calendar. First, there are the political holidays that regularly remind the people of the political achievements of the National Socialist movement during its battle for the Third Reich, along with its great idealistic motives. (30 January, 1 May, 9 November. Themes: battle, work, sacrifice).
Here it is a question of creating new customs for the new political worldview and its ideals that will also enable later generations to be reminded of those strengths of instinct, feeling, and spirit that have been recognized as so critical in our struggle for existence and for the security of the people’s community. (A few examples: courage, bravery, affirmation of life, awareness of duty).
These new customs develop directly from the ideas, experiences, and traditions of the party itself. One must accept the risk that wrong choices will occasionally be made in the course of their development. This is true with anything that is new. The advantage is that a strong new spirit can develop its own forms of expression, without heed to convention. But there are also those holidays that have a long history with the people, and which still may have public value, but no longer have the significance in the popular mind they once did (solstices, Christmas, etc.).
The significance of holidays and rituals — from the political standpoint — lies in the spiritual or emotional deepening of the experience of community. Thus, these historically inherited occasions for holidays and rituals along with their living expressions may in no way be thought less important in their educational and political effects than those newly developed in our day. If we are to attempt to make inherited customs politically useful, we must be clear that that is possible only if we give them a fundamentally new content. Even if religious fanatics object, this is justified because it deepens the sense of belonging to the people’s community. Obviously, this is not done for religious reasons, but rather because only in that way is it possible to bridge inherited religious fragmentation.
It is thus necessary to give inherited customs a meaning that reaches each member of the community in the same way (that is, a political meaning that reaches the people as a whole).
“Christmas” is an example, as we will see.
When we conduct such a holiday or ceremony, we want — as in everything else — to mobilize the spiritual or emotional strengths of the community for National Socialism. For example, Christmas is an inherited holiday about a theoretical peace for all of humanity. There is no national or social necessity to believe in this. However, we can present it as a holiday of actual domestic national peace, which is in fact without question a critical demand of the National Socialist people’s community of each individual German. If we make visible the blessings of this actual peace along with its foundations and requirements, then “Christmas” doubtless can be a high point in the course of the political year. Both according to popular custom and popular view, the Christmas holiday can justifiably be seen as a festival of the nation.
From this perspective it fits clearly in the political and worldview arena.
But if we do this, we must realize that the Christmas holiday or Christmas festival is more than a date on the calendar suitable for cheap entertainment events. We cannot meet our goals in the style of pre-war clubs with their “variety evenings,” raffles or the ever so popular military farce. Not even if “Bananini the Magician” or “Bear Mouth the Sword Swallower” makes a guest appearance.
Given this viewpoint, the question is what to do in place of such things. One may object that there are rarely the means available for an “expensive celebration” and that there really isn’t any readily available political content. In such cases, someone usually ignorant of history comes up with some sort of poorly done poetic performance on stage. It is ostensibly “genuinely German,” but no one either understands or gets involved in it.
It is certainly necessary to educate the public in historical matters, but it is not appropriate to turn our ceremonies into versified dissertations (particularly if they are done by dilettantes!). The ceremony should appeal not to the knowledge of the few, but to the spirit, the life feeling, of the many. They should appeal not to the presumed needs of our ancestors of two thousand years ago, but rather reach those living today with our spiritual consciousness. We may not simply imitate our ancestors. Instead, we must seek to use effective and understandable methods that will reach the German person of our century with the National Socialist idea, and this in ever new and strengthening ways. That will not happen if we appeal in a ceremony to more or less understood historical knowledge, but only if we have the courage to express today’s spiritual condition in the language of our day. Who will be moved by dull verses about the customs of our ancestors, to whom we lack a living connection even if we know something of their history. We may regret that. But that does not change the facts we have to deal with in our political work.
A Christmas ceremony based on events and views that people do not understand today does no good, but harm. It arouses only a distrust of our goals, not confidence in our ability to lead the people spiritually (which is more than necessary!). In some places, “festivals of lights” have been held. Naturally, representatives of various groups carry a candle for the “people’s community.” Naturally a worker walks up to the stage with a white collar employee, hand in hand. He is in brand-new overalls and has a hammer in his hand. His partner, of course, has a suit coat with sleeve protectors and, depending on his job, a brief case, drawing instruments or a book. It is first of all superfluous to offer images of such “classes” when we want to appeal directly and in a unified way to the German person (in the name of the eternal nation). And second, we may not make the movement, the community and their symbols into “living pictures.” When we conduct a ceremony or a serious holiday, it is a serious and real affirmation that should find its base in the real and the true, not in sentimental illusions. We do not want simply to touch the feelings (a movie with a “happy ending” usually can do that much better!), but rather to make people aware of their responsibility for the nation’s fate. We must stress that a theatrical play is not a ceremony and a ceremony is not a performance. Conducting ceremonies is not another name for entertainment, but rather a serious task affecting the worldview and political life forms of the community. A serious problem is that we often do not have a “ceremonial room” at our disposal, which makes the task difficult from the start. However, the necessary determination can use simple means to reduce the problem at least to a bearable degree. We must avoid the theatrical spirit and theatrical props and stay with political reality — even when we celebrate. Whether a Christmas “festival of lights” needs such a name can be left open, though such a literary travesty hardly seems to deserve the name “Christmas celebration.” But properly done, it can become a true affirmation. It becomes a symbol when we see in it the opportunity to make visible in a festive way those things which are taken for granted during the rest of the year, but which are the foundations of our national life and thinking.
If we view matters correctly, we have no reason to reject giving new meaning to inherited customs as long as we see a variety of political possibilities in, for example, the popular custom of the Christmas tree. But we must think carefully about it, because they do “work.” And if they do not work according to our will and our sense, they all too easily can work without and against us!
We have no reason to forget that not long ago, the reigning pope called German Christmas customs “pagan,” and that the German bishops worked hard to change his opinion. They apparently saw these “pagan customs” as most valuable psychological props. Since, however, the highest office called them a “nonessential element” of Catholic ritual, one cannot hold it against us if we rely on this judgment and keep these customs alive for the day when they fully and finally are eliminated from the church’s religious rituals.
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