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What are Christmas Traditions in Germany?

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. Or at least that’s how the tradition goes.

The first Christmas trees were decorated with apples, nuts, and candles. Nowadays, ornaments, tinsels, and lights are more common. The Advent wreath is also a popular decoration in Germany. It is made of evergreen branches and has four candles, which represent the four Sundays of Advent.

One charming German Christmas tradition is the Christkind or the Christ child. This figure is said to bring gifts to children on Christmas eve. The Christkind is often portrayed as a young angelic girl with wings.

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

Another tradition that is popular in Germany is the Advent calendar. This is a calendar with 24 little doors, one for each day of December leading up to Christmas. Behind each door is a little treat, such as a chocolate or a small toy.

German Christmas markets are also a must-see during the holidays. These markets are usually located in town squares and are full of stalls selling traditional Christmas decorations, food, and drink. Visitors can also enjoy festive entertainment, such as choirs that sing Christmas songs.

So, if you’re looking for a festive and charming Christmas experience, be sure to check out some of these German traditions.

Are German Christmas traditions the same as those in the United States?

Christmas traditions in Germany

Many of our modern traditions in the western world come from Germany. When we think of the fanciful tales that are the base of German traditions, it’s easy to see why so many other cultures happily adopt those traditions.

What is Christmas time like in Germany?

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

Christmastime in Germany is a combination of solemn observance of Jesus Christ being born and a joyful celebration. At the beginning of December, it is traditional to reflect upon the meaning of the season. This is the traditional Advent season that is also observed in Christian communities around the world.

During this time some German households display an Advent wreath that holds five candles. These usually consist of one white candle and four purple candles. On each of the four Sundays of Advent, a purple candle will be lit. At midnight on the eve of Christmas, the white one is lit. This signals the Lord Jesus’ birth.

Advent calendars are also popular, and most children have their own to keep track of the progress of the season. There is a little door to open for each day in December from the 1st to the 25th. Behind every door, a tiny toy or candy awaits the eager child. This is usually a bedtime ritual during Advent.

Christ Child and St. Nicolas

St. Nicolas' Feast Day

At Christmas time in Germany both the Christ Child and St. Nicolas are honored, much as in the rest of the western world; however, the traditional celebrations differ from those in the United States. For example, most families celebrate St. Nicolas’ Feast Day on December 6. They do this by putting their shoes near the fireplace in hopes that St. Nicolas will fill them with treats.

Just as with the US tradition of hanging stockings, German children can expect to get good treats in their shoes in exchange for good behavior. If they have been naughty, they are likely to find their shoes filled with sticks and coal.

Of course, the Christmas tree, Weihnachtsbaum or Tannenbaum is the best-known German tradition ever! Just as in the US, the tree is usually a live pine or fir tree that is decorated.

The difference is that in Germany, it is decorated with tinsel, hand-blown glass ornaments, chocolates that have been attractively wrapped, marzipan, and candles.

Some German families attend a Christmas eve church service. This is the beginning of the evening. Upon return from church, a family member will ring the Christmas bell and the family celebration will begin.

First, the family members enjoy the tree and open their presents. Depending upon which part of Germany the family lives in, the presents are brought by either the Christmas Man (Weihnachstmann) or the Christ Child (Christkindl).

After the presents have been opened, it’s time for the Christmas feast. Actually, the time of the feast can vary. Some families have Christmas dinner before church. Others have it right after opening presents.

Still, others attend the midnight service at church and have their feast when they return home. The traditional foods for a German Christmas Eve feast are:

  • Roast carp
  • Potato salad
  • Gingerbread, spice cookies, and other light baked goods.
  • At this meal, meat is usually not eaten. On Christmas day there is a larger feast that includes:
  • Roast goose or suckling pig
  • White sausage
  • Macaroni salad
  • Stollen, which is bread stuffed with fruit, nuts, and marzipan

At the end of the celebration, participants enjoy plates of homemade cookies and chocolates. The day of Christmas is usually spent visiting with friends and family members and attending religious events.

The season of Christmas continues through the end of the month and into the month of January. On January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated.

This is a celebration of the Three Wise Men. At this time, German families write the initials of the Wise Men and the date above their doorways in chalk. This is said to protect the home and the family for the rest of the year.

In the United States, we already celebrate many German traditions at Christmas time. With their charm and focus on quality time spent with family, it is easy to see why they are so appealing. Why not try adding a few delightful German Christmas traditions to your holiday celebrations this year?

See Related: Things to Do in Northern Germany

What are some German Christmas traditions?

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

Christmas Markets

Christmas Market in Frankfurt, Germany

Christmas Markets are very popular during the Christmas season. These markets contain craft booths, food booths, and small rides for children. The most famous Christmas market takes place in Nuremberg. Also, the Berlin Christmas market is quite popular.

Also at this time of year, Christmas Stollen Bread is often baked by German wives to bring to the Christmas markets. This bread is said to include ingredients that should provide energy throughout the entire winter! It is a bread made with dried fruits, nuts, and spices.

The Christmas Pickle

Christmas pickle decoration
Sahara Prince / Shutterstock

Another tradition that is popular in Germany is the Christmas Pickle. There is some disagreement over where this tradition began, but one story says that a German soldier who was fighting in World War I was homesick for Christmas. His wife sent him a pickle on the Christmas tree.

He had never seen one before, but he assumed it was a Christmas ornament. Every day he would look at this pickle until finally on Christmas Eve it disappeared! “Oh no!” he cried. “Who took my pickle?” Thus began the tradition of the German children waiting to see who took their favorite decoration off the tree.

Some people believe that the Christmas Pickle is a symbol of good luck for the New Year. So hang one on your tree this year and see if you are lucky in the coming year!


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

Candles have a special meaning for Germans at Christmas time. They are often placed on the windowsills to represent light in the darkness. In some parts of Germany, it is traditional to light a Yule log on Christmas Eve.

This is a large piece of wood that 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.

Advent Calendar

Advent Christmas house calendar
LewisAmanda / Shutterstock

An Advent Calendar is a calendar that contains small gifts or treats to be enjoyed each day during December. This tradition originated in Germany and is still very popular there.

Christmas Decorations

Christmas Decorations at Opernpalais, Berlin

Germans take their Christmas decorations seriously! Many villages compete to have the most beautiful decorations in the country. Some towns have even started to light up their Christmas trees and decorations earlier and earlier in an attempt to outdo their neighbors.

So this year, why not try some of these charming German traditions? You may find that you enjoy them even more than the traditional American Christmas traditions!

Christmas Angels

Christmas angel ornaments
cegoh / Pixabay

One of the most popular German Christmas traditions is the Christmas Angel. These angels often adorn the top of the tree or are placed around the house.

They are said to bring good luck and happiness to the home during the Christmas season.

Advent Wreath (Adventskranz)

Advent wreath with candles
Alexandra Mitache / Unsplash

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

The purpose of the Advent Wreath is to help prepare for Christmas. It is a time to reflect on the birth of Christ and how it has changed the world. In addition to the main German traditions that have been highlighted, there are many other charming German Christmas traditions that you can try this year!

The most popular one is lighting a candle for each week of advent. As a family, gather together with a lit candle in a safe place and sing Christmas carols or read scriptures related to the season. This is a reflective time that can remind us of the true meaning of Christmas.

Another tradition is hanging a wreath on your door. This symbolizes hospitality and is often used to welcome guests into your home during the holiday season.

See Related: Best Glass Ornaments from Germany

Christmas Carols

Music sheet for Christmas carol
David Beale / Unsplash

Christmas carols are another important part of the German Christmas tradition. Singing these Christmas songs together as a family is a fun way to get into the Christmas spirit!


Person holding a nutcracker
Nati Melnychuk / Unsplash

The Nutcracker is a famous German Christmas tradition that many people are familiar with. This ballet tells the story of a girl who receives a nutcracker for Christmas.

Her favorite toy becomes alive and takes her on an adventure! The music in this ballet is considered some of Tchaikovsky’s best works.

St. Nicholas Day (Sankt Nikolaus Tag)

Sankt Nikolaustag Letter

On the evening of December 5, children hang freshly polished boots on their front door. They do it hoping that Saint Nicholas and his assistant Knecht Ruprecht will come to their house. Perhaps he’ll leave them with fruit, chocolate, or gummy bears as good kids or coal as a bad kid.

Nonetheless, not every youngster has such a fantastic luck tale to tell. At any time, Saint Nicholas only provides gifts to children who have been good. This is one of the most popular German Christmas traditions and one that your family will surely enjoy.

See Related: Best Holiday Celebrations in the World

Fun Facts About Christmas in Germany

Here are some general questions and facts about Christmas.

What is Christmas Tree in Germany?

It is called Tannenbaum in Germany.

What is Santa Claus in Germany?

Santa Claus is called Weihnachtsmann in Germany and he delivers presents to children on Christmas Eve.

Does German Christmas have a Baby Jesus?

Yes, there is a Baby Jesus in the nativity scene during Christmas time in Germany. He represents the birth of Christ and the reason for the season.


There are a lot of German Christmas Traditions and a German Christmas is surely well celebrated. Some of them may differ or be the same as other countries. But the important thing is we all celebrate Christmas time with our loved ones.


Do Germans celebrate on Christmas Eve?

Yes, Germans celebrate Christmas on December 24th. This is the same day that Americans celebrate Christmas.

What is the most popular German Christmas market?

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

What are Advent wreaths?

It is round and made of fir branches and has four candles on it. One candle is lit each Sunday leading up to Christmas

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