Christmas in Germany: A Guide to German Holiday Traditions

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Christmas in Germany (Weihnachten) is a magical time of year, filled with charming holiday markets, festive decorations, traditional food and celebrations. The German holiday season starts in late November and lasts through New Year's Day, with many beloved traditions practiced throughout. Though some customs vary by region, Christmas in Germany often focuses on family, food, faith and welcoming the Christmas spirit. Read on to learn more about what makes Christmas so special in this European wonderland.

Christmas Markets

One of the most iconic parts of a German Christmas is visiting the holiday markets, or Christkindlmarkts. These outdoor markets have a long history dating back to the Late Middle Ages, often held in town squares surrounding a central church or city hall.

History and Significance

Christmas markets originated as a way for craftsmen and bakers to sell goods and food in anticipation of the Christmas holiday. Over time these markets evolved into bustling events with vendors selling decorative items, toys, ornaments, handicrafts and holiday treats. The markets are very important to German Christmas tradition and play a major role in holiday celebrations today.

Some of the most famous Christmas markets in Germany can be found in Nuremberg, Dresden, Cologne, Berlin and Munich, attracting millions of tourists each year. Smaller towns also hold charming local markets, with each having its own unique vibe and offerings. Part of the fun is strolling from stall to stall, admiring twinkling lights and taking in the festive atmosphere.

Food, Drinks and Shopping

Vendors at the markets sell beautiful Christmas decorations, ornaments, nutcrackers and traditional German handicrafts. However, the food and drink may steal the show! You can warm up with a mug of hot mulled wine called Glühwein or try other specialties like stollen (fruit cake), roasted nuts, potato pancakes, soft gingerbread called lebkuchen, bratwurst sausages or roast ham hocks. It's easy to spend an entire day eating, drinking, shopping and being merry!

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Christmas Trees and Decorations

Another emblem of a German Christmas is the lavishly decorated Tannenbaum (Christmas tree). Most homes and town centers display lovely trees adorned with glass ornaments, tinsel, wood carvings, candles and other heirloom decorations that carry on beloved traditions.

Origins of the Christmas Tree

The first decorated indoor Christmas trees likely originated in Germany in the 16th century, with early trees decorated with fruit, candles, paper flowers and sweets. Glass Christmas ornaments started being produced in the mid 1800s, allowing more elaborate decorations. The tradition slowly spread across Europe and then to America - so Germany played a pivotal role in the Christmas tree's global popularity!

Typical Decorations

A traditional German Christmas tree is often adorned with glass balls, tinsel garland, wooden or straw ornaments, candy canes and candle holders. Families may have treasured ornaments passed down for generations, telling stories of Christmases past. Other decorations may reflect local artistry like smoke-blown glass, white lace, carved wood products or intricately painted glass balls from Lauscha.

Regional Variations

Christmas trees can range from simple to spectacular, depending on the region. In some households, the Tannenbaum features real flickering candles and scarce decorations for an understated elegance. In other areas like Erzgebirge, trees dazzle with abundant decor including tinsel, candles, apples and fanciful wood carvings. Creative themed trees are also popular, like the white Glitzerwald (glittering woods) style.

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Advent

Advent marks the start of the Christmas season in Germany. It refers to the four weeks before Christmas (Advent comes from the Latin term “coming”) and is a period focused on preparation, reflection and anticipation of the holiday.

Definition and Practices

The Advent season has religious significance, observed by lighting candles each Sunday on the Advent wreath. Many also open special Advent calendars with little gifts or chocolates behind each numbered door in the countdown to Christmas. However Advent goes beyond just religion, playing an important cultural role with Christmas markets, holiday baking, craftmaking, decorating and more.

Advent Calendars

Germans take their Advent calendars seriously, with many handmade and designed around various themes. Intricate calendars may hide tiny figurines, toys, Legos or drawings behind the little doors instead of just chocolates. Beautiful Christmas villages also serve as stunning Advent calendars for the entire family to enjoy.

St Nicholas Day

December 6 marks St. Nicholas Day, celebrating the beloved patron saint Nicholas of Myra known for his generosity and gift-giving. On this day German children may put shoes or boots outside their door at night to find little treats and gifts from St. Nikolaus!

Advents during Christmas in Germany | Triplay.ai

Christmas Eve Traditions

Christmas Eve (Heiliger Abend) on December 24 is the highlight of German holiday celebrations, centering around family gatherings, festive meals and church services. Customs vary across regions but the night carries special significance.

Family Gatherings and Meals

Families reunite on Christmas Eve for their big celebratory meal, with dishes that differ across Germany but often include fish, sausage, potato salad, fondue and delicacies like carp, goose or duck. They sing carols, exchange stories and gifts, and partake in other familial traditions passed through generations.

Religious Services

Christmas Eve religious services hold meaning for many German families, whether the Catholic midnight mass, Protestant worship or other gatherings. Churches are beautifully decorated for the holiday with trees, wreaths, candles and nativity scenes. Services include special music, hymns, readings and homilies for the occasion.

Gift Giving

Gift exchanges traditionally happen on Christmas Eve in Germany rather than Christmas Day. The festivities revolve around Die Bescherung, which means “the giving of gifts.” Family members gather around the Christmas tree to sing carols while exchanging wrapped presents and appreciating time with loved ones.

Christmas Eve Traditions in Germany | Triplay.ai

Christmas Day

December 25 is an official public holiday dedicated to family Christmas celebrations. While Christmas Eve involves more elaborate customs, rituals and expectations, Christmas Day brings relaxation and casual gatherings with loved ones.

Family Celebrations

On Christmas Day the early morning may still involve formal celebrations, gift giving or festive meals for immediate family members. But the rest of the day often allows for catching up with extended relatives, playing games and focusing less on rigid traditions. Germans also enjoy Theirholiday classic films, concerts and television specials.

Traditional Dishes

The noon meal on Christmas Day tends to be an impressive but comforting feast. Families dig into roasted goose, duck, rabbit or pork with dumplings. Favorite sides include red cabbage, potato salad and Christmas stollen. They indulge in sweets like marzipan, fruitcakes, macaroons, gingerbread and cinnamon stars.

New Year's Eve and Day

After Christmas Germans shift their attention toward welcoming the new year with reinvented ancient pagan traditions, parties and optimism - along with a few nostalgic Christmas elements too! New Year’s Eve is known as Silvester in Germany.

Silvester Traditions

On Silvester Germans make lots of noise to “scare off” misfortune and evil spirits before the year ends. Many light small “lucky fires” with old Christmas trees to burn away the previous year. Legumes like green lentils or black-eyed peas symbolize prosperity for the future. Melted lead drops in cold water “predict the future,” while chimney sweeps ensure good fortune.

New Year’s Speeches and Fireworks

Germany’s major cities host spectacular fireworks displays synchronized with light shows and music. Berlin in particular is known for epic New Year’s Eve parties! Germans may also tune into televised New Year’s Eve speeches by prominent politicians and leaders. Once the clock strikes midnight, friends exchange toasts, hugs and well wishes.

Other Holiday Activities

Beyond the iconic markets, decor and family celebrations, the festive season offers much more magic across Germany. Twinkling lights illuminate pedestrian walkways, holiday ships glide down rivers and museums launch special Christmas exhibits.

Christmas Concerts and Events

Throughout Advent and Christmastime Germany brims with special concerts, Christmas pageants, holiday shows and festive performances. Church choirs may sing Handel’s Messiah or Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Creative dance and theater productions like The Nutcracker bring seasonal stories alive on stage.

Holiday Destinations

Certain German locales become exceptionally charming holiday havens like Christmas City Quedlinburg, medieval Rothenburg ob der Tauber and idyllic Rüdesheim's Christmas Market Cruise along the Rhine River. Snow dusted alpine villages also prove picturesque backdrops for Christmas shopping, winter walking and seasonal beverages.

Christmas Day in Germany | Triplay.ai

Conclusion

As you can see, Christmas in Germany overflows with meaningful customs that make the season sparkle with old world wonder. Families bake traditional sweets, hunt for the perfect Tannenbaum and gather to celebrate faith, hope and unity during the darkest time of year. The cheerful Christmas markets, mystical Advent rituals and gifted St. Nicholas all inspire childlike anticipation. While Silvester bid farewell to the past, welcome the future and set German spirits soaring sky high. From glittering lights glinting off ornamented trees to roasting chestnuts by a bonfire with loved ones, Weihnachten truly offers something magical for everyone. So consider adding a German Christmas to your travel bucket list...you just may discover your new favorite holiday tradition!

Frequently Asked Questions About Christmas in Germany

What are the origins of the Christmas tree? The Christmas tree tradition has roots in 16th century Germany, beginning as “Paradise Trees” adorned with apples and candles. Using an evergreen tree to celebrate winter festivals predates Christianity as well, stemming from pagan winter solstice practices.

When do Germans celebrate Christmas? Most Christmas celebrations revolve around Heiligabend (Christmas Eve) on December 24th and continue through December 25th and 26th. Families attend church services, eat festive meals, exchange gifts and sing carols on the 24th and 25th.

How long do Christmas markets last? Germany's Christmas markets often open in late November and run through December up until December 23rd or Christmas Eve. Some of the largest, most famous markets like Nuremberg, Dresden and Erfurt may open even earlier and close just before New Year’s Eve.

What foods are eaten at German Christmas? Classic German Christmas fare includes roasted geese/duck, bratwurst sausages, potato salad, mulled wine, stollen fruitcake, gingerbread cookies, roasted nuts and more. Regional specialties differ across Germany's countryside.

Do children receive gifts on Christmas Eve or Day? German children typically receive gifts on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. The gift giving ceremony is called Bescherung.

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Aleksandra Chinchenko
Founder Triplay.ai.