Gauss-Advent Calendar: Christmas in Germany
by Lena Heinecke
Even if the first chocolate Santas are already on supermarket shelves in September, the Christmas feeling probably only starts to come up for most Germans from the first Advent onwards. The first Advent is the fourth Sunday before Christmas (i.e. end of November or beginning of December). On this day the Advent season begins and many Germans also begin to decorate their house or apartment for Christmas around this time. This includes, for example, the Advent wreath, on which four candles are fixed (one candle for each Advent Sunday). In addition, from the first of December, we can open a door of our Advent calendar every day until Christmas. My favorite activity in the beginning of December is baking cookies (Plätzchen) in all sizes and shapes.
St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6th. We clean our shoes, put them in front of the door overnight and on St. Nicholas morning we will find sweets or small gifts in them. You can find out more about the history and customs of St. Nicholas Day in the 4th and 6th door of our Gauss Advent calendar.
The Christmas season is also filled with Christmas parties for most people. We celebrate with our colleagues, our friends, with the people from our sports club, etc. We often drink mulled wine or Feuerzangenbowle (or both) and sometimes we will exchange gifts in a Secret Santa game. This means everybody prepares a gift for someone else, but nobody knows who prepared which gift. There is also a separate article about Secret Santa in our advent calendar.
Some Christmas parties take place at the Christmas market, but even if not, visiting a Christmas market with all its Christmas smells, colors and delicacies is definitely part of the Advent season in Germany.
A quite controversial topic is the Christmas tree. When to buy it, when to put it up and when to decorate it? Should it be as big as possible or is a small tree on a table preferred? How is it decorated? Do you want a real Christmas tree or an artificial tree? There are many possibilities and each family has its own traditions. However almost every Christmas tree is decorated with candles (or a string of LED candles). Traditionally, many Christmas trees are also decorated with Christmas tree balls, for example made of glass, and other means of decoration, like small pendants made of straw, wood, plastic or chocolate.
Christmas is the feast of the family, therefore the families come together on Christmas Eve on December 24th. Although many Christians in Germany hardly ever go to church during the year, it´s a tradition for most of them to attend the Christmas service in the afternoon or evening. This is also where the Christmas story is told. In the evening, we eat together at home and exchange gifts. Typical Christmas dishes in Germany are potato salad with sausages, roast goose or duck or other time-consuming meat dishes. We in our family and also many of my friends have raclette at Christmas, that means meat, vegetables and other things in small pans, which are topped with melted cheese. Since my family is Christian and somewhat musical, we also sing many Christmas carols together on Christmas Eve (my favorite part of Christmas), for example while we are unwrapping the presents. In Germany, the presents are brought by the Weihnachtsmann and placed under the Christmas tree, at least that´s what we tell the kids.
December 25th and 26th are public holidays and this time is also usually spent with the family. Since I was small it is a tradition that we celebrate on December 25th with my mother’s family and go to my paternal grandparents on the second Christmas day. In both cases, we go to a restaurant together at noon and spend the afternoon singing Christmas carols, eating cookies and chocolate and handing out or unpacking presents. The bigger the family is and the further apart everyone lives, the more difficult it is to coordinate all visits. That´s why, for many Germans, Christmas involves a lot of planning and quite some time on the road.
The Christmas season in Germany ends with the Three Kings on January 6th. That is usually also the time when the Christmas tree is taken down again.
What Christmas foods are there in your culture?