Christmas in Germany: Customs and Traditions
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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