It is Christmas Eve at Wartschwanberg Castle; or dickbauch in the old Schloss on the hill, if you prefer that sort of language. The tree is hung with miniature Hapsburg jawbones reflecting candlelight from a zillion hand-rolled tapers, and topped with a silver quaternion eagle. Mantelpieces in every room are laden with sprigs of berried holly, fir garlands and glittered greeting cards: "Merry Christmas Aunt Griselda. Sorry I haven't seen you for thirty-five years but I am still exiled in the land of the Slavs."
There is ice skating on the frozen millpond and a Red-Nosed Erasmus look-a-like competition beside the Holbein Gate. Seasonal drinks are served from the Woodcutter's Rest: Rheinheitsgebot beer, seaweed punch from the Baltic states, mulled cider for Wassailing, eggnog schnapps, plum and spiced almond wine.
In the great hall, Crown-Prince Ludwig is dressed like a pixie because he has been passing purple water; and fancy-dressed Minnesänger are rinsing their vocal chords with mistletoe juice in preparation for the Yuletide Sängerkrieg. The Grand Duchess, hidden deep in a sable coat, is supervising the wrapping of presents in the privy council chambers: there is a box of tin soldiers for Otto, a box of tin soldiers for Wolfgang, a box of tin soldiers for Franz, and fairy-tale Alpine fortress themed wooden building blocks for Ludwig. There used to be a extravagant nativity scene in the castle, but the Christ child figure was captured by Napoleon after the Prussian army's surrender during the Fourth Coalition.
Meanwhile, in the courtyard, Old Mother Trümmerfrau is selling poisoned marzipan to disobedient children and the wizened Nutmen are stirring horse chestnuts in oaken barrels of boiling brine. Sticky treacle is outlawed by the Duke this year, for some reason, but towering cake trays are laden with Esterhazy torte, Thomasplitzchen, chocolate Fredericks, Hanseatic gingerbum, brandied woppel pears and traditional fig flavored nougat wizzels.
Alas, Herr Doktor has ordained that Poor Stephen can't eat any of them because of his high-cholesterol; so he must subsist by sipping cold sprout and carrot gruel in a lowly cattle shed outside the castle walls. Not for him the turkey wrapped in bacon tinsel or the fatted goose stuffed with fatted gosling. Not for him the toffee covered cherries and extra slice of Black Forest cake washed down with lashings of Liebfraumilch. Yes, it will be a merry but culinarily austere Christmas for Poor Stephen this year.
(Historical note: although Dickbauch is a real celebration, a fair proportion of the food and drink mentioned here is invented by me. There are no such things as "Hanseatic gingerbum" or "nougat wizzels" as far as I know, so don't go asking for them at your local German gourmet import store or you might be forcibly ejected from the premises)