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Christmas Around the World – Germany

Germany is a country in the centre of Europe and the most populated of the continent. It has a rich history going back centuries, starting with different states and peoples that in the end would be united as Germany. Its history is as rich as it has been tumultuous with two World Wars, a split into West and communist East Germany and finally the reunion in 1990. It is composed of 16 states and while the main language is German, most states have their own dialect (which in many cases go way beyond being accents).

Photo source: Clemens Pfeiffer, Vienna

The German Christmas time begins four Sundays before Christmas with the 1st advent. At this time the traditional Advent Wreath is put together, which usually consists of an evergreen wreath with four candles (and sometimes some light decorations such as ribbons). On the 1st advent Sunday the first candle is lit and then each following Sunday another one is lit until on the Sunday before Christmas all four candles are burning. Some families have a fifth candle (often white) in the middle so symbolize Christmas, to be lit on Christmas Eve.

A big German tradition is the Advent calendar, which exists in many different ways. It often is made of cardboard with 24 flaps, behind which you can find Christmas-related drawings and scenes, often chocolates and candies and more recently even small toys. The first printed calendar originated in Munich in 1903 and from there on spread around the world.

Picture source:

During this time also the first Christmas decorations are put out, which include a lot of wooden handicraft, such as nutcrackers, candle carousels and pyramids, incense smokers (which are very varied in their appearance) and candle arches. Contrary to many other countries, the Christmas tree often is only decorated fairly late, in some families as late as Christmas Day. Common decorations include glass Christmas ornaments, tinsel, sweets and straw ornaments. Traditionally also real lit candles are still used compared to electric lights.

For a guest post by my mom from Germany on how to make metal foil star Christmas ornaments, please click HERE.

December 6 is traditionally Nikolaustag (“Saint Nicholas Day”). On the evening of the 5th, children put their freshly cleaned shoes or boots in front of the door, hoping for some nuts, fruit or sweets as a reward for having been good, furnished by Niklaus (Saint Nicholas), while the ones that had been mischievous would get a lump of coal instead. In Bavaria, when doing his rounds, Saint Nicholas is traditionally accompanied by the Krampus, often depicted as a beast-like creature with cloven hooves, and the horns of a goat, that hands out the coal and if he finds a particularly naughty one he will stuff it in his sack and carry it away to its lair. There have been some debates, if he is appropriate for children.

Picture source:

The Krampus also is related to a Bavarian/Austrian tradition, which is called the Perchten. Dressed in animal pelts and wearing fear-inducing hand-carved wooden masks with horns, fangs, tusks and more, they roam the streets of the cities in the evening of December 5, with rusty chains and bells and some with bundles of birch branches they use to swat at people. Of pagan origin, the Perchtenlauf (Run of the Perchten) still is firmly entrenched in Austro-Bavarian Christmas-time traditions.

Picture source: Roland Berger

During the Advent time, Christmas markets throughout Germany have traditions as far back as 700 years ago, with Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt being the oldest one, but also Munich, Dresden, Frankfurt and Augsburg (including a life-size Advent calendar) have long histories and traditions. People get together to listen to music, drink Glühwein (hot mulled wine), browse the stands of artisans and merchants with their often hand-made handicraft and decorations, and enjoy some food such as roasted chestnuts, gingerbread hearts and more.

Christmas itself is celebrated on Christmas Eve, so December 24. Shops are open until noon (which is important, since all stores are closed on the 25th and 26th) and in the afternoon most families start cooking the traditional Christmas dinners. These often consist of carp, with potato salad (which, btw, often does not contain mayonnaise), in southern Germany you will also find bratwurst or Schäufele (a corned, smoked ham), again with potato salad. After that traditionally the family gathers around the Christmas tree to listen to or sing Christmas songs before opening the presents. And depending on the region of Germany, it is either the Weihnachtsmann (“Christmas Man”) or the Christkind (“Christ Child”) bringing the presents. The next step is the Christmette, which traditionally is the midnight mass, even though nowadays is also held earlier than that.

The two following Christmas holidays are often reserved for the family, on the 25th the traditional meal is a roasted goose, accompanied by apple and sausage stuffing, red cabbage, and potato dumplings and the 26th is often used for contemplation and the overall quieter day.

Picture sources: Wikipedia and Red Ted Art
Big photo: Christstollen, from top right: Vanillekipferl, Zimtstern, gingerbread hearts, Spritzgebäck, Spekulatius

A lot of Christmas pastry and cookies also originated in Germany. One of the most famous recipes is the Dresdner Christstollen, where yeast dough sees the addition of butter, raisins and lemon zest and in the end is dusted with powder sugar. Also Lebkuchen (gingerbread, the German one is a soft variety, though) originated in Germany of the 14th century, best known is the Nuremberg gingerbreads. At many of the Christmas markets you can buy Glühwein (literally translated “glow wine”), which is a mix of red wine and different spices, heated to almost boiling temperature. The most famous cookies are Vanillekipferl (they are technically Austrian, but also very common in Bavarian), Spritzgebäck, Spekulatius (speculoos) or Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars), most of which you can also buy already store-made.

Nico is growing up with traditions from both Quebec and Germany, so have a look at Valerie’s post about Quebec!

With our post we are joining an amazing group of bloggers in a 32 day series about Christmas called “Christmas Around the World”! Bloggers from all around the world showcase Christmas traditions, recipes, crafts and more from all corners of the planet!  Make sure to check the linky at the end of the main post, since every day a new country will be added to take you on a journey around the world and put you in the Christmas spirit! :)


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