The Christmas season is the most wonderful time of the year, and that is especially true in Germany. However while many German traditions are similar to how we celebrate in the US, there are a few big differences! Of course, COVID-19 has impacted how we can celebrate this year, but you can still grab a glühwein and try some of these German Christmas traditions at home! Frohe Weihnachten!
Advent Wreaths and Chalk On Doors
Though holiday items begin appearing in stores in early September, the German Christmas season officially begins with Advent in late November. Advent calendars are common in German homes, but an Advent wreath (or Adventskranz) is a must! The style of the wreath varies, but it always includes four candles. Germans light one candle every Sunday during Advent, until finally all four are lit.
Advent ends on December 24th, but the Christmas season isn’t officially over until January 6th. Known as Three Kings Day (Dreikönigstag) or Epiphany, this is when people take down their Christmas tree and pack up holiday decor. Your house may also be visted by Sternsingen (Star Singers). These singers go door to door caroling and collecting donations. Finally, they also write a special blessing in chalk on your door. While many people believe that C+M+B stands for the names of the three kings, it actually means “Christus Mansionem Benedicat”, or Christ bless this house. It’s bad luck to wash it away, so ours is still very visible a year later!
German Christmas markets are pure magic. The “Weihnachtsmärkte” date back to the middle ages and normally the weeks leading up to Christmas find city centers decked out in decorated huts selling gifts, food and drinks. This year, many Christmas markets cancelled early, and those that didn’t were unable to offer food and drinks. We’re already looking forward to celebrating next year, but if you’re in the USA you can check out some great examples of Christmas markets in Chicago or Milwaukee! To read more about German Christmas markets, click here.
Christmas Eve is the Main Event
Scenes of excited children running downstairs on Christmas morning don’t happen in Germany! This is because Germans put more emphasis on Christmas Eve, or Heiligabend. Families gather for dinner before exchanging gifts. Like many families, Peter’s family also likes to sing a few Christmas songs together. When I sing, I scare our dog, so this is not my favorite German tradition!
Santa? Never heard of him
Of course Germans have heard of Santa, but he doesn’t bring the gifts on Christmas Eve! Instead, Germans credit the Christkind. Typically depicted as an angelic blonde child, the Christkind brings the presents on December 24th without being seen.
Additionally, a Santa-like figure visits German children on Nikolaustag (December 6th). For this holiday, kids leave shoes out for St. Nikolaus to fill with fruit, nuts and small gifts. And just in case this wasn’t all confusing enough, a secular Weihnachtsmann is also associated with Nikolaus. To read more about this, click here!
Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and… Second Christmas Day?
After two days of Christmas festivities, you may be ready to kick up your feet an relax at home. However, if you’re in Germany, you can’t get comfortable quite yet! Heiligabend is followed by the Erste Weihnachtsfeiertag, which naturally is follwed by the Zweiter Weihnachtsfeiertag. This second Christmas Day (or Boxing Day in the UK), doesn’t have any special traditions associated with it, it’s just another day for visiting family.
Hopefully this helped you understand some of unique German Christmas traditions! Is there anything on this list that you’re going to start incorporating into your Christmas celebrations? If you’re interested in more Christmas content, click here!