Christmas in Germany: Customs and Traditions

Updated on December 4, 2019
melbel profile image

Melanie has been interested in cultures, languages, and travel since her youth. She loves adventures and continues to explore new places.

Timber houses in Nuremburg decorated for the holidays
Timber houses in Nuremburg decorated for the holidays

Christmas is celebrated differently in different places around the world. In Germany, Christmas is a very important holiday and thus features a large celebration. Germany is known for its wonderful Christmas markets. Each year people flock from all over the world to browse the wonderful shops that offer Christmas goods.

There are many different stages of the Christmas season in Germany, including St. Nicholas Day (Nikolaustag in German) as well as St. Nicolas Eve, Advent, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.

Many of the elements that make up the holiday traditions in the country are common throughout Europe, and some may be familiar to those in the US who celebrate an American-style Christmas.

If you're looking to travel to Europe to experience a beautiful and awe-inspiring holiday season, look no further than Germany. Christmas there is still a magical holiday during which gifts can be purchased in tiny shops that line the streets. It is very much unlike its overly commercialized American counterpart.

Stollen for sale at the Nuremburg Christkindlmarkt
Stollen for sale at the Nuremburg Christkindlmarkt

St. Nicholas Eve and Day

The Christmas season starts well before December 25th, making the holiday stretch nearly all the way through the month of December. St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6th and kicks off the Christmas season in Germany. On the Eve of St. Nicholas Day, children leave their shoes outside to be filled with candies and treats from St. Nicholas. Children that have been bad receive sticks in their shoes.

Advent

In Germany, children use Advent calendars to count down the days until Christmas. There are many different forms of Advent calendars. Some have pictures to represent each day of the month, and some have little doors for each day. Behind each door is a small gift or chocolate. Another Advent tradition is the placement of holly wreaths on tables decorated with four red candles. One candle is lit each Sunday before Christmas and the last candle is lit on Christmas Eve.

A Christmas tree in Frankfurt at the Christkindlmarkt
A Christmas tree in Frankfurt at the Christkindlmarkt | Source

Christkindlmarkt

Christkindlmarkt (which literally translates to Christ child market) is an outdoor street market that originated in Germany and has spread to various parts of the world. These annual markets are usually held in town squares and feature open-air stalls selling food, gifts, and decorations. The outdoor shopping experience is often accompanied by live singing.

Whether you visit the oldest known Christkindlmarkt (known as Striezelmarktn and held in Dresden) or you visit one in the US (such as the Christkindlmarket in Chicago), you'll find that it's a surefire way to get in the Christmas spirit!

The Best German Christmas Markets

If you're lucky enough to be in Germany around Christmas time, I highly recommend going to a Christkindlmarkt. Here is a list of cities that hold some of the best open-air Christmas markets.

Nuremberg: This is arguably the most well-known Christmas market. Nuremberg's market dates back to 1628. The 180-some stalls sell high-quality wares made regionally.

Dresden: This is Germany's "capital of Christmas," with a market open from November through Christmas Eve. Be sure to hit up the city's most famed market, Striezelmarkt, which attracts shoppers from around the world. Striezelmarkt has been run since 1434, making it one of the oldest Christmas markets in the world. Be sure to stop for a hot cup of Glühwein while you're there.

Cologne: This city is home to various Christmas markets and each has a very different feel. Visit Cologne at Christmas time if you want it all, from Altstadt Market run by Heinzelmännchen (house gnomes) to Angel's Market with its beautiful lights. Stop by toy stands, pick up a loaf of stollen, and hit up the ice rink!

Hamburg: One of the favorite markets in Hamburg is the one in front of the city hall where you can unique handicrafts, carved gifts, and wooden toys. This is the place to go if you're looking for a well-made, special gift.

Bremen: This coastal city is home to two of the most magical Christmas markets. Schlachte-Zauber is a medieval-themed market with vendors donning period costumes. Items sold at this market often match the overall theme, making it a fun event for the whole family. The Weihnachtsmarkt is also not to be missed and is a great place to pick up warm mulled wine along with other goodies.

Wooden ornaments are a popular (and beautiful) addition to a Christmas tree.
Wooden ornaments are a popular (and beautiful) addition to a Christmas tree.

The Christmas Tree

The German word for Christmas tree is Weihnachtsbaum. The Christmas tree is deeply rooted (no pun intended) in German culture. In fact, the concept of the Christmas tree actually came from Germany. Despite this, some German traditions regarding the tree differ from those in the US. For example, children in Germany are not traditionally allowed too help decorate the Christmas tree.

Parents usually decorate the tree with fruit, nuts, candy, and lights, and gifts are placed under the tree. The decorating of the tree occurs on Christmas Eve while the children stay in another room. When the parents complete the tree, they ring a bell for the children to come and open gifts and celebrate by singing carols.

Many Christmas trees can be found in public squares and shopping centers. These trees are usually beautifully lit and decorated for everyone to enjoy.

Did you know?

The song "Silent Night" was originally composed in German. The original song, titled "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht" is one of the most popular Christmas songs in Germany.

Tiny shops dot the streets in many towns where gifts can be purchased for Christmas. The Christkindlmarkt in Jena, Thuringia is popular among students in this university city.
Tiny shops dot the streets in many towns where gifts can be purchased for Christmas. The Christkindlmarkt in Jena, Thuringia is popular among students in this university city. | Source

Heiliger Abend (Christmas Eve)

It is said that those who do not fill their stomachs on Christmas Eve will be haunted by demons, so you'll definitely want to eat as much as you can! Because of this, Christmas Eve is commonly referred to as dickbauch, which means "fat stomach." Because of the wonderful feast, Christmas in Germany is not to be missed!

The Christmas Feast

The dinners served on Christmas Eve and Christmas day are made up of the traditional boar's head (or increasingly more common, pork,) duck, sausage, goose, marzipan, lebkuchen, and many different types of bread and sweets.

Questions & Answers

    © 2009 Melanie Palen

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      • mollymeadows profile image

        Mary Strain 

        6 years ago from The Shire

        This is lovely. Maybe someday I will travel to Germany and see for myself! :-)

      • vwriter profile image

        vwriter 

        6 years ago from US

        My mother has a German background, with my great-grandfather coming over from Germany. Thus, this hub has great meaning for me. Thank you for sharing.

      • mperrottet profile image

        Margaret Perrottet 

        6 years ago from San Antonio, FL

        In 2008 I visited my son (a retired marine) who was stationed in Stuttgart Germany, and I found it to be such an interesting and beautiful country. Having toured through some of the villages, I can imagine how lovely it must be at Christmas.

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        6 years ago from Houston, Texas

        My family is mostly of German heritage and obviously my maternal grandparents kept some of those customs with regard to decorating the Christmas tree. If you wish to read a fun hub, read the one about How NOT to decorate a Christmas tree. True story! Ha! I have only been to Germany once and it was in the Spring and early summer. It must be wonderful to be there during the Christmas season! Thanks for sharing your impressions.

      • Thelma Alberts profile image

        Thelma Alberts 

        7 years ago from Germany and Philippines

        Yes, celebrating Christmas in Germany is not to be missed. My first Christmas in Germany was awesome. As what you have written, the children was not allowed to see the Christmas tree before dinner time which was 6 or 7 pm. Me included as it was also to surprise me. The children had to sing or recite a poem (which they were prepared of) after dinner and before receiving our gifts. It´s a wonderful time at Christmas in Germany. Thanks for reminding me. Have a happy day!

      • melbel profile imageAUTHOR

        Melanie Palen 

        8 years ago from Midwest, USA

        Rosemarie, that sounds like it was a lot of fun. It must have taken a while to select a poem, but hopefully you selected meaningful ones. It really sounds like a fun memory -- thank you for sharing!

      • profile image

        Rosemarie Apsel 

        8 years ago

        This is a well written account of Christmas in Germany. I should add that, when I was a child in the 50's, we were required to recite a Christmas poem before we got any gifts. But even that was fun.

      • Cheeky Girl profile image

        Cassandra Mantis 

        9 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

        I liked reading this! Some nice information here for Christmas in a foreign country!

      • melbel profile imageAUTHOR

        Melanie Palen 

        10 years ago from Midwest, USA

        I am glad that you enjoyed the hub. We always got advent calendars as well, but the store bought chocolate kind. And I don't think I ever did the calendar honestly. I would always eat a couple of days ahead of time or not start the calendar until the middle of the month. Which I don't understand because I could have just gotten my chocolate fix from other sources... the chocolate in the advent calendars we got wasn't that good anyway... but it made the wait for Christmas a little bit more fun.

        Thank you for your comment!

      • Rebecca E. profile image

        Rebecca E. 

        10 years ago from Canada

        Since I am of German orgin I love this hub reminds me of my childhood espcially the Advent Calendar.

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