When a thick blanket of snow covers the land, when lights glitter on the fir trees and the scent of cloves and cinnamon wafts through the air, then it’s Christmas time… Whether baking cookies, making Christmas decorations or singing carols: In Germany, numerous traditions make for an atmospheric December and sweeten the wait for the eagerly awaited Christmas Eve, when the Christ Child or Santa Claus brings the presents, especially for children.
"Advent, Advent, a little light is burning. First one, then two, then three, then four, then the Christ child stands before the door", so one hears the children rhyme in the Advent season. They long for the fourth Sunday of Advent with all their heart. Then all four candles on the wreath of fir branches finally light up and Christmas is not far away.
Numerous customs and traditions sweeten the dark time of December in Germany and make the hours until Christmas fly by. Some go back to pre-Christian winter and light customs, others are of Christian origin and are now part of customs worldwide. In addition, there are many regional traditions. In Saxony, for example, "miners" in traditional dress walk through the streets in Advent in memory of the mining era. In the Upper Palatinate, on the other hand, a blessed image of the Virgin Mary is passed from house to house during the Christmas season, until it is brought to the market on 24. December returns to the church.
But on one point the whole country agrees. Advent with its very special magic, the flickering candles in the long winter nights, the beguiling scents of mulled wine and freshly baked cookies and the atmospheric songs that ring out from churches and markets, is one of the most beautiful times of the year.
Advent calendar: 24 doors until the Holy Feast
Advent calendar on the wall ©gettyimages (Nils Hendrik Muller)
An Advent calendar belongs in Germany to the Christmas season like mulled wine and cookies. Preparations begin as early as the end of November, because on 1. December the calendar with its 24 little surprises must be ready. His purpose is clear: every day until Christmas Eve there will be a small gift, so that the waiting time will not be so difficult. Advent calendars can be found in many different forms. Many have little doors behind which colorful pictures or sweet treats are hidden. Even today, many Advent calendars are lovingly made by the children themselves. There are 24 little bags or packets containing mini-preciousnesses that have been chosen especially for the loved ones. For children, an Advent calendar is a must, but many adults still adhere to this beautiful custom as well. Especially in the Rhineland, another German custom is common to make the wait until Christmas Eve go by faster: "Strohhalmlegen" or "filling the manger". An empty nativity scene is set up in the house to mark the beginning of December. The children receive straws for every praiseworthy deed – such as a good grade in school or help with the household. They can then put these in the manger so that the baby Jesus will find a soft little bed when he is born at Christmas.
Fun for the winter time: Snowmen with turnip nose
Winter fun: Family sledding in the snow ©gettyimages (Robert Kneschke / EyeEm)
When the first snow of winter falls, especially the children do not stay indoors anymore. They put on thick hats and run out into the cold. They gaze in amazement at the sky, which lets soft flakes trickle down to earth. Once the white splendor covers the earth, the fun begins. They roll the snow into thick balls, heave them on top of each other and build a snowman. He gets a carrot as a nose and traditionally two coals as eyes. Then maybe add a hat, a stick, or whatever comes to mind to the imagination. Here’s a secret: Many of the "children" are already quite big, because building snowmen is fun that even the adults find hard to resist.
Shoes out: Santa Claus brings apples, nuts and candy
Advent: girl looks out the window, candles in the Christmas season ©gettyimages (CLM Images)
The main end-of-year celebration in Germany is Christmas. But even much earlier in December, a nice custom enjoys great popularity: the feast of St. Nicholas on the 6. December. The night before, children – and some adults – already put their polished shoes or boots outside the door. At night, so the legend goes, Santa Claus comes by and puts sweets, nuts, tangerines and small gifts in it. The role model, it is thought, is St. Nicholas, a bishop who lived in 4. In the sixteenth century in the Turkish city of Myra lived. In his honor, this beautiful custom lives on, which brings children together on the morning of 6. December makes hurry out of their little beds. Quickly they run to the door to see if the holy man came by in the night with his sack full of sweets and gave them rich presents.
December for foodies: cookies, stollen and roast goose
Baking Christmas cookies ©Fotolia (M.Studio #122266475 (now at: https://de.stockfresh.com/image/7396692/baking-christmas-gingerbread))
Advent is the season of feasting. This begins already at the beginning of December with the baking of cookies. Especially the kids love to knead dough, cut out the cookies in Christmas shapes and decorate them with colorful icing, almonds or sweet beads. Cinnamon stars with sugar icing, spicy pepper nuts and sweet powdered vanilla crescents are especially popular. Inseparable from the culinary Christmas is also the Christstollen, which is made according to various family recipes, usually from yeast dough, butter, raisins and nuts. Worldwide famous is the Dresden Christstollen, which has been produced since the 15th century. The Christmas cake of the nineteenth century is baked according to a special recipe. In any case, German Christmas pastries enjoy great popularity around the globe. Gingerbread is very popular, especially the "Nurnberger Lebkuchen" (Nuremberg Gingerbread). In addition, there are juicy Printen from Aachen and delicious, buttery marzipan from Lubeck. Especially on Christmas Eve, German families tend to be more pragmatic. Potato salad with sausages comes to the plate of many. Especially in Thuringia and Saxony this tradition is popular. On the following Christmas days, roast goose with dumplings and red cabbage or carp is served. In Schleswig-Holstein people prefer to eat duck.
Glittering Christmas time: The Christmas tree is the most beautiful tree
Christmas: Girl decorates the Christmas tree ©gettyimages (FatCamera)
"At the Christmas tree the lights burn, how it shines festively, sweetly and mildly…", so goes a popular German Christmas carol. In fact, the Christmas tree is the center of Christmas almost everywhere. In nearly all houses a richly decorated fir tree is set up, around which then later the gifts are presented. Many families buy the tree together at special market stalls or even cut it themselves in designated forest areas. Many families have inherited Christmas decorations with which the tree is lavishly decorated. Everything that shines and glitters, such as Christmas baubles, bells, angel figurines and shimmering tinsel, is popular. In Germany, it is still customary today to put up real trees and decorate them with real candles. In the south of Germany, especially in Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg, the "Christbaumloben" is the custom. People go from house to house praising the beauty of the Christmas tree that is at the neighbor’s house. As a thank you for the compliments, they get a small gift, such as a bottle of schnapps.
Christmas Eve: Christ Child or Santa Claus?
Decorated Christmas tree with gifts and nutcracker ©AdobeStock (VK Studio)
Christ Child or Santa Claus? The question of which of the two brings the presents is answered differently in the regions of Germany. Santa Claus with the ruffled beard is the newer invention, but it has caught on and is busy mainly in the north of the country. The Christ Child with the golden curly hair, on the other hand, is more at home in the south. In any case, the children have respect for both, because only the good ones are given plenty of presents, so the parents say. After the presents on 24. December, many families traditionally go to church for Christmas mass, although they may not otherwise be seen at services as often. This midnight mass is usually celebrated very atmospherically. The bells ring for church and the whole family sets off to meet up with other families, neighbors and friends. In church, children are most interested in the nativity scene, which tells the story of Christ’s birth from the Christmas story with lovingly carved figures.