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Christmas in Germany

Christmas in Germany

We are excited to be part of a great new blog hop named “Christmas in Different Lands”, hosted by Multicultural Kid Blogs :)

Christmas-around-the-world

Christmas in Germany is very different from what we are used to in North America. Most of the traditions are way more steeped in, well, tradition than commercialism and in many cases also in religion.

Photo source: Clemens Pfeiffer, Vienna

Christmas time begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which is the 1st advent. Most houses will have an advent wreath, in most cases an evergreen wreath with four candles and some light decorations such as ribbons. Every Sunday one extra candle is lit until on the Sunday before Christmas all four candles are burning. Sometimes a fifth candle is placed in the middle as a symbol for Christmas, lit on Christmas Eve.

Related to this is another big German tradition, the advent calendar. There are different ways of making these, often you can find it 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. But many people make their own and have little wrapped gifts either hanging from rings, in pockets or in other ways. And the first printed calendar actually is from Germany, more precisely from Munich (coincidentally the city I was born in!).

Picture source: http://www.erzgebirgepalace.com

During this time the first Christmas decorations also are put out, with a lot of traditional 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. Traditional decorations you can find 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 another traditional (inofficial) holiday: 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 the Nikolaus (Saint Nicholas), while the ones that had been bad 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: 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 other cities have long histories and traditions, including Munich, Dresden, Frankfurt and Augsburg (which also has a life-size Advent calendar). 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 (they are of the soft kind) 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 very rarely contains mayonnaise, but has some oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, sometimes onions), in southern Germany you will also find bratwurst or Schäufele (a corned, smoked ham), again with potato salad. Next the family often gathers around the Christmas tree to listen to or sing Christmas songs before opening the presents. And depending on the region of Germany, it can be either Weihnachtsmann (“Christmas Man”) or the Christkind (“Christ Child”) that bring the presents. The next step in the tradition 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 butter, raisins and lemon zest are added to a yeast dough 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.

We hope you enjoyed learning a bit about Germany’s Christmas traditions :)

If you do this, we’d LOVE to see a photo of it. Email it to us or post it on our Facebook page. Don’t forget to also follow us on Pinterest and our “Around the World in 12 Dishes” series also has its own Pinterest boards for each country. We’d love to do a Facebook album, a Pinterest board and a page of your creations :)

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