Word of the Week: Weihnachtsstern

Dec 21, 2012

Every Friday, Germany.info and The Week in Germany highlight a different "Word of the Week" in the German language that may serve to surprise, delight or just plain perplex native English speakers.


Poinsettia plant (Weihnachtsstern) Enlarge image Poinsettia plant (Weihnachtsstern) (© picture-alliance/dpa) In German, a "Weihnachtsstern" is both a Christmas star in the literal sense, as well as the poinsettia plant popular all over the world during the holiday season.

German immigrants brought the Christmas tree (Weihnachtsbaum) tradition with them to the United States, where it became extremely popular by the 19th century. The tree was often topped by an angel or a Christmas star (Weihnachtsstern) symbolizing the star that burned brightly according to the Bible above Bethlehem the night Jesus Christ was born there.

"Weihnachtsstern" (Christmas star) Enlarge image "Weihnachtsstern" (Christmas star) (© picture-alliance/chromorange)

As with so many German compound nouns, this one is comprised of several separate words that can be broken down into three syllables in this instance as "Weih / nachts / stern" to essentially mean "Weihnachts" (Weihnachten/Christmas) and "Stern" (star).

Germans moreover often make Christmas stars, or "Weihnachtssterne" (plural), out of straw or colorful transparent paper to adorn windows and doors in homes and schools, or decorate branches and trees, during the holiday season.

The poinsettia, which is indigenous to Mexico and Central America , is widely used in Christmas floral displays due to its bright red and green foliage. The ancient Aztecs called the plant, which bloomed in tropical highlands on short winter days, "cuetlaxochitl." They used its milky white sap as fever medicine and extracted a purplish dye from its brightly colored bracts, or modified leaves, to use in textiles and cosmetics.

Christmas tree decorations, including straw stars (Strohsterne) Enlarge image Christmas tree decorations, including straw stars (Strohsterne) (© ZB - Fotoreport) In English, the plant derives its name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first US Minister to Mexico , who introduced it to the United States in 1825. In German, the star-like shape of the plant's bright red-and-green leaves led to it being called a "Weihnachtsstern." Sometimes it is also referred to as an "Adventsstern" (Advent Star) or "Christstern" (Christ Star).

A family of German immigrants perfected the art of poinsettia production in California during the 20th century. Albert Ecke emigrated from Germany to Los Angeles in 1900, where he opened a dairy and an orchard. His son, Paul Ecke, developed a grafting technique that created a fuller, more compact plant by grafting two varieties of poinsettia together. Today, the Ecke's California-based family business still produces poinsettias for the world market.

Advent and Christmas in Germany - Germany.info

der Weihnachtsstern
die Weihnachtssterne
des Weihnachtssternes, Weihnachtsstern
der Weihnachtssterne
dem Weihnachtsstern
den Weihnachtssternen
den Weihnachtsstern
die Weihnachtssterne

Source: Duden (duden.de)

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