Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Christmas Every Day” can be seen as an allegory of Germany’s failure to accept responsibility for its past and a cautionary tale admonishing Germany—and, by extension, all humankind—to mind its moral house. Böll accuses his country of closing its eyes to the recent horrors of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi repression. The new German Federal Republic, he says, is a bogus state, morally and ethically bankrupt, which attempts to present Germany to the world as a land of decent people with solid middle-class values, lovely music, and endearing traditions. Where, he asks in effect, is the penitent confession that this is a country in which millions of people still living supported the brutal invasion of their neighbors? Why are Christmas carols being sung by those who built death camps to destroy other human beings or, at the very best, by those who chose not to see what was going on?

In “Christmas Every Day,” things stand for other things, but it is not always possible to identify them exactly. For example, it is hard to say with certainty what Böll means about one priest’s taking another’s place at the Christmas Eve festivities. Perhaps he is thinking of those clergymen, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, who resisted Nazi rule and the others who quietly acquiesced to it. In short, not even those well versed in modern German history and in literature will agree entirely on the meaning of the story, although its gist is startlingly clear.