Word of the Week: Glücksbringer
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.
Enlarge image A "Glücksschwein" (lucky pig) made of marzipan is a traditional New Year's Eve "Glücksbringer" (bringer of luck) (© picture-alliance/WILDLIFE) Germans traditionally give each other a "Glücksbringer" (a bringer of luck) on New Year's Eve (Silvester) or New Year's Day (Neujahrstag). Among the most popular of all "Glücksbringer" is a "Glücksschwein" (lucky pig).
According to German tradition, the "Schwein" (pig) brings good luck over the coming 12 months. Similarly, the German phrase "Schwein haben" - which literally means "to have pig" - actually implies "to be lucky."
But just how did the pig become a lucky charm in Germany in the first place? Its special status in this regard purportedly dates back to old decks of playing cards, in which the ace was known as "die Sau" (a sow, or female pig). The upshot: the expression "Schwein haben" became a synonym for being lucky.
Yet the pig as a positive symbol also dates back to ancient times, when the wild boar was revered as a holy animal by the Germanic tribes of central Europe and southern Scandinavia. The domestic pig eventually became a symbol of wealth and good standing in society, because it was regarded as a symbol of strength and fertility.
Enlarge image Little "Schornsteinfeger" (chimney sweeps) atop pots filled with four-leaf clovers for sale as "Glücksbringer" (bringers of luck) for the New Year at a market in Düsseldorf on December 27, 2012. (© picture-alliance/dpa)
Today, however, real pigs are not exchanged as gifts among Germans at the dawn of the New Year, although they are considered to be lucky charms. Instead, cute little piglets made of pink marzipan are a favorite gift and sweet little treat around New Year's Day in Germany.
Other symbols of good luck are the four-leaf clover (vierblättrige Kleeblätter) and toadstools (Fliegenpilze), those adorable little mushrooms with white-dotted red caps. In Germany, a fortunate person may be called a "Glückspilz" (a lucky mushroom). A "Schornsteinfeger" (chimney sweep) is another symbol of good luck in Germany, and small chimney sweep figures or cookies are also sometimes given "Glücksbringer" at the start of the New Year.
In a festive combination of multiple "Glücksbringer," the little marzipan piglets given to friends and family are often munching on a little four-leaf clove with a toadstool attached to it. They may also feature a chimney sweep "rider" and hold a "Glückspfennig" (lucky penny) in their little snouts.
So why is the "Schornsteinfeger" a bringer of luck? In the past, he played an instrumental role in keeping the chimney (Schornstein) and fireplace (Kamin) clean and functional in every household, which was essential to performing daily tasks including cooking and heating the home. So if your fireplace and chimney were blocked up and literally out of order, you really were hard up and out of luck. When the chimney sweep came over and remedied the situation by cleaning everything out, you were by contrast back in luck again.
Enlarge image "Glücksschweine" (lucky pigs) made of marzipan on a tray ready for New Year's Eve on December 28, 2012 in southern Germany. (© picture-alliance/dpa)
Other "Glücksbringer" include the "Hufeisen" (horseshoe) and the "Marienkäfer" (ladybug), which was historically considered in the Christian tradition to be a holy messenger and a representative of the Virgin Mary (Maria). Ladybug motifs on stickers, cards and candies are not uncommon in Germany at any time of year.
The German word "Glück" moreover means both luck and happiness, as well as fortune and felicity. Other uses of the word include "Glückwünsche" (congratulations) and "glücklicherweise" (fortunately).
Yet you would be well advised to use the word "Glücksspiel" (game of luck) sparingly in Germany, as it does not refer to a card game or a carnival amusement, but to gambling.