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What are Christmas Traditions in Germany?

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Christmas is a magical time in Germany. As one old saying goes, “On Christmas Eve, one hears church bells ringing from the sea, trees burst into fruit, animals, and people speak together, jewels pour from mountaintops, and the rivers run with wine.” At least, that’s how the tradition goes.

The Christmas Tree is the best-known German custom. Known in German as Weihnachtsbaum or Tannenbaum, it’s usually a pine or fir tree. The first Christmas trees were decorated with apples, nuts, and candles. Nowadays, ornaments, tinsels, and fairy lights are more common.

German Christmas markets are a must-see during the festive season. They are usually held in town squares and are full of stalls selling traditional Christmas food, gifts, decorations, and drinks.

German Christmas market at the Römer square in Frankfurt am Main
mapman / Shutterstock

Visitors can enjoy festivities, like choirs singing carols. They can also fill up on Glühwein, the quintessential Christmas beverage. Glühwein is hot mulled wine served in ceramic mugs. For a festive and charming Christmas experience, check out some of these German Christmas traditions.

What is Christmas Time Like in Germany?

Famous christmas market in the heart of Cologne near Cologne Cathedral
picturetom / Shutterstock

In the Christian religion, Christmas combines the solemn observance of Jesus Christ’s birth and a joyful celebration. Christian communities around the world follow this traditional Advent season. Baby Jesus and the nativity scene are prevalent during Christmas in Germany.

During December, some German households display an Advent Wreath. German Lutherans believe that Advent wreaths started in the 16th century. It holds four candles, three purple and one pink colored one.

Every Sunday, a purple candle is lit. On the third Sunday, a pink candle is lit. The pink candle represents the halfway point during the Advent season and the imminent birth of Jesus.

Christmas traditions in Germany

A Traditional German Christmas Day

Some German families attend a local church service on the evening of December 24th. After church, families open gifts and feast on a traditional Christmas meal. Depending on where the family lives, the presents are brought by the Weihnachstmann or the Christkindl.

Some traditional foods for a German Christmas Eve feast are fish, potato salad, red cabbage, sauerkraut, and gingerbread cookies. Germans eat roast goose or duck, sauerbraten, sausages, and Christmas stollen on Christmas Day.

The holiday season is celebrated until January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. To commemorate the Three Kings Festival, the date and the initials of the Wise Men are written in chalk over each doorway. This is thought to protect the family and home.

See Related: Things to Do in Northern Germany

What Are The Top German Christmas Traditions?

Let’s get into some of Germany’s best Christmas celebrations and traditions.

1. Christmas Markets

Christmas Market in Frankfurt, Germany

Christmas Markets are iconic during the Christmas season. These Christmas markets contain craft booths, food booths, and small rides for children.

German wives often bake Christmas stollen to bring to the Christmas markets. This bread is said to include ingredients that provide energy throughout the winter.

Nuremberg boasts the most well-known Christmas market, although the Berlin Christmas Market has a sizable following. While in Nuremberg, take a Christmas culinary tour through GetYourGuide for a memorable winter experience. GetYourGuide also has an incredible private Christmas Market tour in Dresden.

2. The Christmas Pickle

Christmas pickle decoration
Sahara Prince / Shutterstock

The true origin is unknown. One theory is that a captured German soldier requested a pickle during the war. Since he considered the pickle a lifesaver, it became a family tradition and appears annually on the Christmas tree.

Another story states that Woolworths imported German fruit and vegetable Christmas tree ornaments to sell around Christmastime. This could be why many associate Germany with the Christmas Pickle tradition. Get your own Christmas Pickle through Amazon.

3. Candles

Christmas stollen on wooden background and advent candles
Serenko Natalia / Shutterstock

Candles are special during Christmas in Germany. They represent the light in the darkness. In German homes, candles are usually placed on the windowsills. My family always had these extravagant handmade wooden candle holders around Christmas. You can get your own through Amazon.

In some parts of Germany, it’s tradition to light a Yule log on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. While this is originally a Scandinavian tradition, some German households adapted it.

This large piece of wood is burned for 12 hours. The ashes from the Yule log are then spread over the fields to help ensure a good harvest in the coming year.

4. Traditional German Christmas Cake

Ксения Traditional German Christmas Cake/ Adobe Stock
Ксения Овчинникова / Adobe Stock

In German, they are known as Stollen. This cake is a staple of Christmas in Germany. It is filled with candied fruits, nuts, and spices and topped with powdered sugar. Some have marzipan in the center.

During the holiday season, my family always has Marzipan Stollen. I’m not a fan of Marzipan, but they’re so good that even I enjoy them.

5. Advent Calendar

Advent Christmas house calendar
LewisAmanda / Shutterstock

Advent Calendars are popular among children. There is a little door to open each day from the 1st to the 25th of December. Each door in the advent calendar contains a small gift or chocolate. This tradition originated in Germany and is still very popular there.

Nowadays, even adults have an advent calendar. Modern advent calendars include tea, assorted jams, and luxury skincare. Grab one for yourself off Amazon.

6. Christmas Decorations

Christmas Decorations at Opernpalais, Berlin

Decorations are a serious matter at Christmas in Germany. Many villages compete to have the most beautiful decorations around.

Some towns have even started to light up their Christmas trees earlier to outdo their neighbors. Typical Christmas tree decorations include candies, nuts, glass baubles, tinsel, candles, and the nativity scene.

Tradition is that the house gets decorated first, and just the tree is saved for last. The Christmas tree is usually decorated on December 23 or 24. However, today, many families may decorate the Christmas tree earlier.

7. Christmas Angels

Christmas angel ornaments
cegoh / Pixabay

One of the most popular German traditions is the Christmas Angel. These angels often adorn the top of the tree or are placed around the house. Growing up, I always remember my mom having a lot of Christmas angels all over the house.

The Christmas Angels are a symbol of hope and peace. They are believed to bring good luck and happiness to the home during Christmas. Get an angel for your tree from Amazon.

8. Advent Wreath (Adventskranz)

Advent wreath with candles
Alexandra Mitache / Unsplash

The Advent Wreath is slowly gaining popularity in the United States. This wreath is typically made of fir branches and has four candles. One candle is lit each Sunday leading up to Christmas..

The Advent Wreath is a countdown to Christmas and a symbol of hope. It is a time to reflect on the birth of Christ and how it has changed the world. Families gather with a lit candle in a safe place and sing Christmas carols or read scriptures related to the season.

See Related: Top Glass Ornaments from Germany

9. Christmas Carols

Music sheet for Christmas carol
David Beale / Unsplash

Who doesn’t love to sing songs to get in the holiday spirit? Christmas carols are another important German Christmas tradition. Singing Christmas songs together as a family is a fun way to get into the Christmas spirit!

Some German carols are Alle Jahre Wieder, Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen, and Ihr Kinderlein Kommet. Songs like Stille Nacht and O Tannenbaum are the same in American carols.

10. Nutcracker

Person holding a nutcracker
Nati Melnychuk / Unsplash

The Nutcracker is a very famous German tradition and the world’s most famous ballet. This iconic story by Tchaikovsky tells the tale of a little girl who receives a Nutcracker for Christmas.

In her dreams, the Nutcracker comes to life and takes her on a wild ride. The music in this ballet is considered some of Tchaikovsky’s best works.

These wooden characters are usually decorated as soldiers or kings. Aside from cracking nuts, they make a beautiful decoration for the festive season. Get your own Nutcracker from Amazon.

11. St. Nicholas Day (Sankt Nikolaus Tag)

Sankt Nikolaustag Letter

On the evening of December 5, children put their freshly polished shoes by the fireplace. Tradition states that Saint Nicholas and his assistant, Knecht Ruprecht, visit the home.

Like stockings, good children in Germany get small gifts or treats in their shoes. Naughty children are likely to find their shoes filled with sticks and coal.

See Related: Top Holiday Celebrations in the World

FAQ

What is the Santa Claus Tradition in Germany?

In Germany, Santa Claus is called Weihnachtsmann. Like in North America, he delivers presents to children on Christmas Eve. However, there are some differences. Santa Claus is not associated with living at the North Pole in Germany.

Do Germans celebrate on Christmas Eve?

Yes, Germans celebrate Christmas on December 24th. Americans typically celebrate on December 25.

What is the most popular German Christmas market?

The most popular market is Christkindlmarkt in Nuremberg. This market is over 500 years old and attracts over 2 million visitors annually!

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