Christmas in Germany has in recent decades become very commercial, with many retailers beginning to provide Christmas decorations and promotions as soon as September. There is without a doubt many similarities between Christmas traditions in both Germany and other EU countries but there are also some quite distinct differences as well.
German Christmas Traditions
One of the German Christmas traditions is the Advent Calendar. This is the four week countdown to Christmas that runs into Christmas Eve which stands out as a child’s greatest memory. Each day throughout Advent a new door is opened. Each of the open doors reveals an extremely sweet chocolate goodie. The Advent calendar tradition started with just paper backed plain cards with twenty four “windows” which when opened up reveal Christmas scenes. Today, it’s possible to obtain advent calendars which have religious motifs and ones that contain delightful figures and sometimes chocolates for girls and boys.
Another one of the famous German Christmas traditions is when German families place on their dining room table an Advent not long before Christmas day. These wreaths are adorned with 4 big candles and often berries and pinecones. When the room’s lights are dimmed, the family surrounds the wreath and sometimes they sing Christmas carols and may even listen to one of their children playing musical instruments.
Traditional German Christmas Foods
The traditional meal made up of German Christmas food could be goose, duck, roast or rabbit. This is the main dish and is usually accompanied by a variety of German delicacies like sausage and apple stuffing, potato dumplings and red cabbage. Dessert may include the well-known pastry Christmas Stollen or Dresdner Stollen, which is the tastiest, made up of fruit and nuts.
Traditional German Christmas Drink
The most traditional Christmas drink is mulled hot red wine, sometimes laced with a spot of brandy which is called Glühwein mit Schuss. Most key German cities serve up Glühwein in mugs made from ceramic designed for the Christmas market. When buying Glühwein the customer pays a deposit, plus the cost of the drink. If the mug is returned, the deposit is given back. The mugs have designs on them that are relevant to the particular city.
“Fire Tong” German speciality Christmas punch (Feuerzangenbowle)
Feuerzangenbowle is another variation on Christmas hot mulled wine, made up of a lot of rum warmed up over an open flame. This drink was made famous in 1943 by the comedy called “Die Feuerzangenbowle.” Since then, fans of the movie invite friends to their homes to drink some Feuerzangenbowle while watching the comedy time and time again.
German Christmas Markets or Weihnachtsmärkte
Weihnachtsmärkte is the word given to the German Christmas market. Holiday decorations and lights attract both locals and tourists. The German Christmas markets originated in the 15th Century. Vendors in many local areas sold food, as well as arts and crafts. These days, 2,500 German Christmas markets exist throughout Germany and attract anyone and everyone. The markets often have a nativity scene on the show while vendors sell a wide variety of often handmade gifts. Also on offer are German foods like fried fish with a freshly baked bread roll and grilled sausages, not forgetting sautéed mushrooms. You may even find some German market traditions in the United States where the tradition is flourishing.
German Christmas Decorations
Throughout history, at Christmas time German Christmas Decorations are important for German families who decorate their homes with evergreen branches but in the seventeenth-century people began decorating trees with gingerbread and ripened red apples and silk. By the nineteenth century, the Christmas tree became more important at Christmas celebrations as a home decoration. Today’s Christmas tree is typically a conifer like a spruce, fir, or pine. The tree is decorated with lit candles or lights set along strings and pretty ornaments which have often been handed down from earlier generations. Homemade biscuits, decorative sweets and chocolate can be found amongst the ornaments.
Sankt Nikolaus and German Christmas Traditions
In Germany on 5th December Children put a freshly cleaned pair of shoes or boots outside the door to their bedrooms. They hope that both St. Nicholas and Knecht Ruprecht, his assistant, will come to their home and leave a small present in their boots, like chocolate, fruit and nuts or even gummy bears in a bag.
On 6th December, the children’s parents don’t bother to wake their children up as they know that they will have already looked to see if a present had been left for them. Some unlucky ones, if they haven’t behaved well throughout the year, could find a bit of coal left behind for them.
In some German homes, children could come in contact with Nikolaus. The well-known saint who is sometimes played by a friend of the family asks the children if they have been nice or naughty. Lying is of little use because Sankt Nikolaus will know the truth anyway because he has a golden book which contains every child’s record of behaviour.
However, overall, Sankt Nikolaus has a good heart and treats children gently. The German Nikolaus, as one of the German Christmas traditions, originates from a real person who was, in fact, a well-loved bishop who resided in Asia Minor during the 4th century. He was a generous and humble person which made him famous.
Many of the German Christmas traditions aren’t just found in Germany, but all over the world where Germans permanently live. The United States is one such country where German Christmas traditions can be found.