Christmas is a magical time in Germany, as one old saying goes on Christmas eve one hears church bells ringing from the sea, trees burst into fruit, animals and people speak together, jewels pour from mountaintops and the rivers run with wine. Or at least that’s how the tradition goes.
Are German Christmas Traditions The Same As Those In The United States?
Many of our modern Christmas traditions in the western world come from Germany. When we think of the fanciful tales that are the base of German traditions, it’s easy to see why so many other cultures happily adopt those traditions.
Christmastime in Germany is a combination of solemn observance of Jesus Christ being born and joyful celebration. In the beginning of December, it is traditional to reflect upon the meaning of the season. This is the traditional Advent season that is also observed in Christian communities around the world.
During this time some German households display an Advent wreath which holds five candles. These usually consist of one white candle and four purple candles. On each of the four Sundays of Advent, a purple candle will be lit. At midnight on the eve of Christmas, the white one is lit. This signals the Lord Jesus’ birth.
Advent calendars are also popular, and most children have their own to keep track of the progress of the season. There is a little door to open for each day in December from the 1st to the 25th. Behind every door, a tiny toy or candy awaits the eager child. This is usually a bedtime ritual during Advent.
At Christmas time in Germany both the Christ Child and St. Nicolas are honored, much as in the rest of the western world; however, the traditional celebrations differ from those in the United States. For example, most families celebrate St. Nicolas’ Feast Day on December 6. They do this by putting their shoes near the fireplace in hopes that St. Nicolas will fill them with treats. Just as with the US tradition of hanging stockings, German children can expect to get good treats in their shoes in exchange for good behavior. If they have been naughty, they are likely to find their shoes filled with sticks and coal.
Of course, the Christmas tree, Weihnachtsbaum or Tannenbaum is the best known German tradition ever! Just as in the US, the tree is usually a live pine or fir tree that is decorated. The difference is that in Germany, it is decorated with tinsel, hand-blown glass ornaments, chocolates that have been attractively wrapped, marzipan and candles.
Some German families attend a Christmas eve church service. This is the beginning of the evening. Upon return from church, a family member will ring the Christmas bell and the family celebration will begin. First the family members enjoy the tree and open their presents. Depending upon which part of Germany the family lives in, the presents are brought by either the Christmas Man (Weihnachstmann) or the Christ Child (Christkindl).
After the presents have been opened, it’s time for the Christmas feast. Actually, the time of the feast can vary. Some families have Christmas dinner before church. Others have it right after opening presents. Still others attend the midnight service at church and have their feast when they return home. The traditional foods for a German Christmas eve feast are:
* Roast carp
* Potato salad
* Gingerbread, spice cookies and other light baked goods.
At this meal, meat is usually not eaten. On Christmas day there is a larger feast that includes:
* Roast goose or suckling pig
* White sausage
* Macaroni salad
* Christstollen, which is bread stuffed with fruit, nuts and marzipan
At the end of the celebration, participants enjoy plates of homemade cookies and chocolates.
The day of Christmas is usually spent visiting with friends and family members and attending religious events. The season of Christmas continues through the end of the month and into the month of January. On January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated. This is a celebration for the Three Wise Men. At this time, German families write the initials of the Wise Men and the date above their doorways in chalk. This is said to protect the home and the family for the rest of the year.
In the United States, we already celebrate many German traditions at Christmas time. With their charm and focus on quality time spent with family, it is easy to see why they are so appealing. Why not try adding a few delightful German Christmas traditions to your holiday celebrations this year?