Celebrating Christmas in Germany
Numerous Christian countries including Germany consider Christmas the most important time of the entire year. Some of the German traditions are no different than other countries such as spending time with family, celebrations and special food. German children are taught Christmas traditions by their elders to be passed on to their children. A lot of European Christmas traditions actually originated in Germany. The majority of Christmas celebrations did not begin until the 19th century.
Four Sundays prior to the arrival of Christmas, Advent wreaths are made by German families. Wreaths are usually made from either pine or fir branches with four candles placed in the center. Every Sunday, the family lights a candle. The family enjoys Christmas cookies and sings special holiday songs. As each day passes, the children open another flap on the Advent calendar. Each flap reveals a new Christmas scene. The families bake spicy cookies, sweet bread and cakes with candied fruit as the filling.
Letters are written by the children to St. Nicholas in the hopes of receiving treasured gifts. In Germany, December 6th is St. Nicholas Day. Some of the children write letters to the Christ Child. Depending on the area, gifts are delivered on Christmas Eve or St. Nicholas Eve. St. Nicholas wears a golden crown and wings, and dresses completely in white.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
German bakeries offer marzipan shaped like animals and fruit. Families flock to the outdoor markets to purchase decorations, gifts, special toys and delicious treats. According to tradition, animals are blessed with the gift of speech on Christmas Eve. The Christmas tree originated in Germany. The tree is decorated with strings of shimmering lights, colored glass ornaments, silver stars and carved pieces of wood. The place of honor at the top is granted to a golden angel.
A manger scene is placed beneath the tree as a representation of where Jesus was born. Presents are placed under the tree. The family sings Christmas carols, reads poems and exchanges gifts. The classic Christmas feast is roast duck, turkey or goose. According to one of the oldest traditions, children must remove their shoes and place them outside of the door. When St. Nicholas’s horses see the shoes, they enjoy the hay and carrots stuffed inside. St. Nicholas leaves candy, apples and nuts for the children.
The white candle placed in the center of the Advent wreath is lit on Christmas Eve. The family spends the day attending church, singing and enjoying a Christmas feast. During the next 12 days, some people drive off spirits by beating drums. Boys sing Christmas carols while carrying a pole with a gleaming star. The boys wear costumes to look like the Three Kings famous for their visit to Jesus.
Some parts of Germany celebrate Krampus Night. Strong men wear furry coats, devil masks and demonic garb while going from house to house. When the parents let them into the house, they try to scare the children to ensure they behave well. A misbehaving male teenager may be gripped by the hands and feet and dragged outside. The teenager is then dunked in the snow a few times to the enjoyment of the siblings. Krampus and all of the devils then celebrate the night at the local pub.
Epiphany and the Sternsinger
In certain areas in Germany, Christmas celebrations continue until the three kings festival on January sixth. In Germany, the festival is called the Epiphany or Das Dreikonigsfest. Children will walk from house to house dressed as the Magi and sing Christmas songs. A star singer in German is a Sternsinger. During this time the children ask for donations for a variety of children’s charities and causes.
Feuerzangenbowle and Mulled Wine
Germans enjoy a potent drink called the Feuerzangenbowle for Christmas. The beautiful creation is made using a combination of rum and mulled wine. Once mixed, the drink is set on fire. No German will celebrate Christmas without a hot mug of mulled wine. Christmas markets all over Germany sell mulled wine in ceramic mugs. The importance of mulled wine is spreading Christmas cheer and staying warm during the cold winter months.
Die Feuerzangenbowle Movie
Many Germans believe the popularity of the Feuerzangenbowle originated with the Die Feuerzangenbowle Movie. Hein Ruhmann is the well known German actor playing the lead role of a writer called Johannes Pfieffer. As the movie begins, the middle-aged writer is sitting in a German bar. All of his friends join him to enjoy a large pot of Feuerzangenbowle. After consuming far too much of the potent drink, Johannes gets a brilliant idea.
He decides he can go back to school if he dresses up as a student. He never went to high school because he was privately tutored due to the financial status of his prominent German family. The movie is about all of the tricks and mischevious actions of Johannes and his classmates. Not only has the Feuerzangenbowle become a popular Christmas tradition among German students, but it is also a new tradition for many German families as well.
Lebkuchen and Christmas Stollen
One of the most popular Christmas treats in Germany is called Lebkuchen. The treat is similar to gingerbread and made with numerous spices, honey and nuts. Lebkuchen can be made with icing, be spicy, sweet, hard or soft. Christmas messages are often written on the delicacy. In addition to being sold at Christmas, Lebkuchen is also available at German souvenir shops, festivals and fairs.
The traditional German Christmas cake is called stollen. The cake is made with spices, flour, nuts and dried, candied or chopped fruits. Powdered sugar is then sprinkled on the confection. Some people add zest. Some Germans have a celebration with the focus on Christmas stollen.
The Traditional German Christmas Feast
The traditional feast includes roast duck, rabbit, turkey or goose. The dish is served with sausage and apple stuffing, potato dumplings and red cabbage. Christmas stollen is almost always served for dessert. The most famous stollen is referred to as Dresdner stollen. Despite the fruit and nuts, stollen is very different from traditional American fruitcake. A ridge is made down the center with the ends tapered as a symbol of baby Jesus dressed in swaddling clothing.
The Wooden Christmas Pyramid
Many German families place a wooden pyramid in their homes during Christmas. The pyramid consists of a small carousel, a nativity scene and angels. The pyramid is several levels in height and spins. The spinning motion is triggered by the heat of lit candles. The tradition began in eastern Germany in the German ore mountains. Wooden Christmas pyramids are one of the oldest German traditions with the roots traced all the way back to the middle ages.
One of the most popular german traditions is the Christmas tree. The tradition of cutting down a spruce tree and decorating it for Christmas began in Germany during the 16th century. During this period of time, small fir trees were decorated on December 24th with paper flowers, nuts and apples. According to the German legend, the first to place candles on a Christmas tree was Martin Luther, the church reformist.
According to the story, one night when Martin Luther was walking home, he saw a tree lit by moonlight. He decided to recreate the way he felt at that moment for his family. This was when he placed little wax candles on his Christmas tree as a representation of the moon.
Magical German Christmas Markets
One of the most popular traditions all over Germany are the Christmas markets. The six most popular markets are detailed below.
This is the most famous and biggest Christmas market in Germany. Every year, the market is visited by over two million tourists and visitors across the globe in addition to the locals. The market is located between Nuremberg’s historic structures and buildings. For four weeks each year, a small city is created within the old town. The market is open from November 30th until December 24th every year. The Christmas market has rows consisting of 180 wooden stalls.
All of the roofs are decorated with red and white stripes. The stalls sell everything from handmade items to German delicacies including Nuremberg bratwurst and gingerbread, tinsel angels and prune people dollies. Some of the visitors are lucky enough to see the Christkind. A Nuremberg girl is elected as a representative of the Christkindlesmarkt every two years.
The Marienplatz is located in the central square of Munich right in front of the town hall. During the Christmas season, the square becomes a spectacular Christmas landscape including 160 market stalls and a Christmas tree 24 meters tall. The market is open from November 27th until December 24th every year. The market sells a delicious fruit bread baked using dried fruits called Kletznbrot, tasty treats and carved crib figures for Christmas.
The Striezelmarkt has been located in the city of Dresden since 1434. This is one of the oldest markets anywhere in Germany. The market is called Striezelmarkt because another name for stollen is Striezel. This is one of Dresden’s most traditional Christmas cakes. At 14 meters in height, the Christmas pyramid is the tallest in the world. The pyramid comes from the Ore mountains. On December 9th, the Stollen Festival takes place.
The Dresden bakers bake an enormous stollen with a weight of nearly four tons. The Christmas market is open from November 28th until December 24th. The stalls sell Baumkuchen, Dresdener Christstollen, crafts carved in the Ore mountains, incense burners, nutcrackers and Christmas pyramids.
Lubeck Christmas Market
One of the world heritage sites is located on the Baltic coast in Hanseatic city. The Gothic town hall is made of brick, offering an incredible backdrop for the Lubeck Christmas Market. The market is actually located in the mariner’s district. The market is open from November 26th until December 30th every year. The stalls sell hot rum and Lubeck marzipan.
Frankfurt Christmas Market
Despite being a major banking city, Frankfort takes on a romantic charm during Christmas. During the first Saturday prior to the Advent, the sound of the bells enchants everyone in the marketplace. During dusk, ten different churches ring 50 bells for an enchanting melody. The bells are called Frankfurter Stadtgelaute, and the experience is unforgettable. The market features a Christmas tree 33 meters tall. The stalls sell hot cider and marzipan Bethmannchen. The Christmas market is open from November 26th until December 22nd.
Erfurt Christmas Market
One of the most beautiful Christmas markets anywhere in Germany is found in Thuringia, the state capital. The market encompasses the timbered buildings around the Kramerbrücke bridge all the way to the cathedral in Erfurt. The 14 wooden figures placed in the nativity scene are life-sized. The Erfurt Christmas Market is open from November 27th until December 22nd. The stalls sell Erfurter stollen, hand-blown glass Christmas decorations and Thuringian handicrafts.
German Christmas Music
Christmas traditions in Germany include making music and singing. During Christmas, musical instruments, songs and bells can be heard in every home. The celebrations reach their height on Christmas Eve. The most famous German song for Christmas is called Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht! The song was first played in 1818 during the Christmas celebration at a little church in Austria called Nicholas in Oberndorf. The assistant priest responsible for writing the classic song is Joseph Mohr. The song has become so famous, it is available across the globe in 44 different languages.