Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As a satire highly critical of postwar German society, “Christmas Every Day” juxtaposes realistic details, such as accurate descriptions of everyday life, with strange, unlikely incidents and details. For example, while the Lenz family sings real songs and eats real Christmas cookies and candies around a real Christmas tree, such devices as individuals being replaced by actors or even wax figures alert one to the fact that there is more here than meets the eye.

This sort of juxtaposition suggests that there is something wrong and dangerous about refusing to recognize what a society has done. The Lenz family, gently bullied by a tyrannical wife and mother, indulges in preposterous make-believe verging on hypocrisy—just as Germany was doing, Böll implies, in the years of the Economic Miracle (the period of unparalleled prosperity that began only a few years after Germany’s surrender to the Allies, and continued through the next two decades and beyond).

Böll likewise employs motifs that have become icons in much of his fiction to drive his point home. The pleasant qualities of middle-class German life serve Böll like a two-edged sword. In much of his fiction, loving families, little gifts, decorated birthday tables, and fresh flowers represent the civilizing elements of society that, fragile as they are, stand like mighty fortresses against totalitarianism and its armies of flunkies. Often a shared drink in a Hungarian tavern is more meaningful in his humanistic view than a troop movement. At other times, these same gestures, festive customs, and bourgeois ceremonies take on a threatening aspect. Such is certainly the case in “Christmas Every Day,” in which German Christmas practices, which much of the Western world has embraced, become symbols of a sort of mass denial as an entire culture attempts to ignore its horrific past. If such a perspective seems confusing—two different ways of regarding the same thing—it is only because Böll himself has never quite resolved the contradiction. He has never decided if fallible humanity is capable of triumphing over the forces of selfishness, intolerance, and hate that constantly assault it. Even though he considers his country guilty of terrible crimes against humankind, he refuses to judge his people as collectively guilty. To do that would be to engage in a Nazi-like racism, to declare that Germans are racially moral inferiors, ethical “subhumans”—a notion that he positively rejects.