Christmas is the most important holiday of the year in Germany – it’s when the whole family gets together to celebrate and spend time in a relaxed atmosphere. Each family spends these festive days a bit differently, but there are some universal customs and traditions, cultivated throughout Germany. That’s what we want to tell you about.
Advent in Germany – der Advent
The holiday season is of course not only Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but also Advent. It begins four Sundays before Christmas Eve. This is when the Christmas markets usually open in Germany. This is also a good time to start decorating homes for Christmas. The most important is the Advent wreath with four candles, which are lit in turn on each Sunday of Advent. In addition, Advent is the perfect time to get together with family or friends to bake gingerbread and cookies and drink punch. The pre-Christmas period is also not without its impact on offices and businesses. Traditionally, various festive corporate events, from the German “Weihnachtsfeier”, are held during the Advent season.
The Advent Calendar in Germany – der Weihnachtskalender
The advent calendar is, above all for children, but also for some adults, a thing without which it is impossible to imagine the pre-Christmas period. It is a calendar with 24 windows that open from the 1st to the 24th of December. Behind the doors there are chocolates or small gifts to pass the time while waiting for Christmas. Many people in Germany make Advent calendars themselves and they take many forms:
Michaelmas in Germany – der heilige Nikolaus
A very important day during Advent in Germany is “Nikolaustag”, or Polish “Nikolaikirche”, celebrated on December 6. Then the shoes of children are filled with sweets. This tradition dates back to the year 340, when “Sankt Nikolaus” lived in Myra, Turkey, and was considered very generous. He gave away everything he had to children and the poor. He is commemorated on the anniversary of his death, which is December 6. However, Santa Claus only comes to good children – naughty children get a rod from his apprentice, called Knecht Ruprecht in Germany.
Christmas markets in Germany – die Weihnachtsmärkte
As we have already mentioned, Christmas markets are very much ingrained in German culture. Practically every city has at least one “Weihnachstmarkt”. They usually open on the first Sunday of Advent (though sometimes much earlier!) and offer on beautifully decorated stands mulled wine, Christmas culinary specialties, punch, Christmas tree decorations, candles and much, much more. The tradition of Christmas markets dates back to the 14th century. The most famous German Weihnachtsmarkt is the one in Nuremberg – Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt. But other cities are also famous for their Christmas markets, such as Dresden and Aachen.
Wichteln – or gift-giving in the run-up to Christmas
A very popular pre-Christmas tradition in Germany is the so-called “Wichteln”, or gift-giving in the run-up to Christmas. It is popular especially among colleagues at work and also among friends. There are different variations and rules for this custom.
One of the most popular versions is the so-called “Schrottwichteln”. Here you give old or useless things – the most important thing is to have fun while unwrapping them! In this way you can finally get rid of unnecessary things, and with a bit of luck the recipient may be happy with the gift.
Christmas Eve in Germany – der Heiligabend
After a period of four weeks of snacking on calendar chocolates, drinking mulled wine at Christmas markets, baking gingerbread, decorating apartments and surviving the frenzy of buying gifts and corporate parties, then comes Christmas Eve, the most important day of Christmas. It’s worth noting that, even though it’s such an important holiday in Germany, Christmas Eve is not officially a public holiday, and stores are mostly open until 2 p.m. So even on Christmas Eve you can still do some last-minute shopping or pick up the last presents. What else is going on that day in Germany? Apart from cooking, the Christmas tree is often decorated and in many families the nativity scene is also set up.
Christmas dishes in Germany
When it comes to the dishes that appear on German tables during Christmas, they are very diverse and depending on the family – the traditions can be really different. In many homes in Germany, the traditional Christmas Eve dish is roast goose with dumplings or Christmas carp. Some families, on the other hand, prefer a richly set table on the first and second day of Christmas, while on Christmas Eve they eat something “fast”, such as sausages with potato salad. This is so that the children do not have to wait too long for their presents, which are the highlight of the evening. Before everyone can unwrap their presents, a Christmas story is often read or the whole family sings Christmas carols. Then it’s time for Midnight Mass – at least for practicing Catholics. This is because at midnight, the most important solemn Christmas mass is held to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Christmas in Germany and the second day of Christmas
In many countries, Christmas is the most important of the three days. In Germany, however, it looks like you just keep celebrating – no more presents, but often with a mass and necessarily with delicious food. December 25th and 26th are officially public holidays, so they are used to get together with family and friends and have a nice time.
The tradition of dressing a Christmas tree originated in Germany
- The Christmas tree, advent calendar, advent wreath, and Christmas markets, which are also popular in Poland, originate from the German tradition and came to Poland from there
- The oldest Christmas market is organized in Saxony. It was held for the first time as early as 1434
- “Silent Night”, which is one of the world’s most famous carols, was written in German by Franz Xavier Gruber. To date, it has been translated into more than 300 languages.