German traditions include a wide range of customs, rituals, religious practices, and folklore associated with the Christmas season. Whether you are looking for new traditions to try this holiday season or want to learn how other cultures celebrate, we have compiled a list of some of the most famous German Christmas traditions.
In this guide, we will explore some German Christmas traditions and how people celebrate this amazing time of the year. You can also look for German sayings for Christmas to take the most out of this beautiful time.
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1. Stockings are filled on 6th December
Children in Germany receive their stockings on Saint Nicholas Day, December 6th (they are opened on December 7th). This age-old tradition, known as the Feast of Saint Nicholas, is observed in many European countries, regardless of religious denomination.
A Christmas stocking is traditionally an empty sock, a sock-shaped bag, or more modern stockings that children leave outside their door for Saint Nicholas to fill. It’s a lovely surprise for children to enjoy at the start of December, with everything from small toys to oranges and chocolate coins.
2. Krampus Night (Krampus Nacht)
Krampus Nacht is the night before the Feast of St. Nicholas, when people dress up as the devil Krampus and parade through the streets, according to tradition. Krampus is a horned figure who scares misbehaving children during the holiday season.
3. Adventskalendar (advent calendars)
While most countries sell advent calendars, the tradition originated in Germany. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many families began to mark the days leading up to Christmas by lighting a candle or drawing a line on walls or doors. Of course, the tradition has evolved slightly, with shops now selling chocolate advent calendars as well as sustainable fill-your-own advent calendars.
4. Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve
For Germans, Christmas Eve (Heiliger Abend) is a jam-packed day of festivities. Many households will traditionally spend the day decorating the tree, preparing food for the family, and sprucing up the home. As night falls, families will congregate around the tree.
The ‘Christkind’ (Christ child), according to tradition, brings the gifts to the children who are waiting outside the room. A bell will be rung to invite children to enter the room, where the family will sing carols before the bescherung (gift-opening) begins. Following that, some families attend Christmas Eve services at their local churches, while others may indulge in delectable foods.
5. The Christmas tree is decorated
In Germany, the tree is traditionally only put up on December 24th. While this now varies by family, many of the older generations still deck the halls on Christmas Eve morning. The rest of the house is decorated ahead of time, but the tree is left until last.
6. Placing an Advent wreath on the table
Advent wreaths, also known as Adventskranz, are a tradition started by German Lutherans in the 16th century. The wreath is typically made up of four candles in a bed of pine cones, berries, dried flowers, and various festive ornaments. The wreath will be displayed in most homes at the beginning of December, with one candle lit each Sunday throughout the month.
7. Christmas markets
While the magic of German Christmas markets has spread throughout the world, it is a German tradition. Christmas markets are thought to have originated in the middle ages in the German-speaking part of Europe. Nothing beats ice skating followed by glühwein (mulled wine) and a hotdog from one of the best markets ever.
8. Christmas angel
Step into any German home during the Christmas season and you’ll notice an abundance of Christmas angels (Weihnachtsengel) all over the place. Angels, one of the most popular decorations, are either hung on the tree or placed on sideboards. They are passed down through generations in some families and have special meanings such as hope, joy, love, togetherness, and peace.
Stollen is one of the best German Christmas traditions. Fruit bread, made with nuts, spices, candied fruit, and powdered sugar, is popular during the holiday season. This famous festive cake, known in Germany as Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen, has made its way all over the world and is loved by all.
Sternsigner, which translates to “star singers,” is when young children dress up as the Three Wise Men and go around their neighborhood visiting houses with a star on a rod. They will frequently sing carols to spread joy. It is a Catholic tradition that is practiced in some parts of Austria.
Feuerzangenbowle (literally “fire tongs punch”), a popular Christmas drink, is a fiery beverage made with wine, rum, and sometimes fruit juice. It tastes similar to mulled wine but has a stronger kick.
Lebkuchen, is a delicious honey-sweetened German cake with a tasty sugary top. They date back to the 14th century, when they were used by Catholic monks, and can now be found in Christmas markets, supermarkets, and bakeries across the country. They pair perfectly with an afternoon cup of tea.
13. Traditional carols
A German Christmas isn’t complete without traditional carols, from Stille Nacht to O Tannenbaum. Some families will gather in their homes to sing together, while others will attend church services. Many of the carols are medieval in origin, with well-known folk melodies written by local clergymen.
14. Christmas Day is called ‘Erster Feiertag’
Unlike Christmas Day celebrations in the United Kingdom, the Germans refer to December 25th as ‘Erster Feiertag,’ which translates as “first celebration day.” While the gifts will have been opened by Christmas Eve, the 25th remains a day when families gather, good food is consumed, and people take well-deserved time off from work.
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Christmas is the perfect time of the year to celebrate with friends and family. It is important for every German learner to know basic German Christmas traditions. Learn to say Merry Christmas in German and greet people on this pleasant occasion.
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