German Advent word of the day: Der Weihnachtsbaum

Everyone loves their Christmas tree. Find out how Germans celebrate this tradition.

German Advent word of the day: Der Weihnachtsbaum
Photo: DPA

What does it mean?

“Der Weihnachtsbaum” is the German word for Christmas tree.

But it is equally often referred to as “Der Tannenbaum” which simply means fir tree but in December always refers to the Christmas tree.

Sometimes it is also called “Der Christbaum” (Christ tree) in regions such as Lichtenstein.

A young boy unpacking presents under the Christmas tree in Bavaria, Photo: DPA

What is the history behind it?

Christmas trees date back to the ancient Romans, and this use has been practiced worldwide, because people believe evergreen trees symbolize life, fertility and health.

Due to this belief, fir trees were often placed in homes during the winter time in order to strengthen one’s health.

This custom is commonly attributed to the Germanic Pagan culture.

In northerly regions people would often place fir branches in front of their homes to prevent evil spirits from entering them, and preserve hope for the early arrival of spring.

Here and there, certain people would decorate their trees, such as people from the Guild chronicle of the municipal handicraft in Bremen (1597), and for example the Duchess Dorothea Sibylle of Silesia (1611).

Later in the 18th century, it was common for wealthy people to purchase a tree, as only they could afford one.

And only since the 19th century did this usage become popular among all citizens.

People began to desire decorating a tree for their Christmas.

Nowadays, most people cannot imagine the holidays without a Christmas tree.

What role does “der Weihnachtsbaum” play in Germany?

In Germany the Christmas tree is the symbol of Christmas due to its almost angelic decorations and lovely smell called “Tannenduft” (fir scent).

This year around 25 million trees will be put up for Christmas ( this means around ninety percent of Germany is accustomed to the Christmas tree tradition).

A typical German Christmas tree has four components:

The first is the star (to Bethlehem) which is placed on the top of the tree.

Secondly, “die Christbaumkugeln” (baubles), or simply “Kugeln” (balls/spheres), are hung from top to bottom and all around the tree. Usually, they are shiny, and sometimes matte.

The colours vary depending on the decorator. Red, gold and silver still remain the classic colors but often you will find purple, green and blue ones as well.

The next component is “die Christbaumkerzen” (Christmas tree lights/candles).

Many families decorate their trees with actual candles, but many also use “Lichterketten” (light chains).

The last component is the “Lametta” (tinsel), which covers the tree from top to bottom. It comes in many colors such as red and gold, but the classic color is silver.

But of course, every family has their own traditions. Some not only hang “Christbaumkugel” but also other ornaments such as Santa Claus figurines or glass doves.

In Germany, like many other places, the presents are set under the tree and the “Bescherung”, when everyone exchanges gifts, takes place there.

Most families only put up their tree and decorate it shortly before Christmas Day.

And usually, the trees get tossed out (on the streets) approximately two weeks after the 24th, so that it will still be standing on Silvester.


“Du hast mal wieder den Weihnachtsbaum wunderschön geschmückt.”

Once again you decorated the Christmas tree beautifully.

“Hast du nicht Angst, dass der Baum mal Feuer fängt wegen den Kerzen?” “Nö. Das ist uns wirklich zum Glück noch nie passiert.”

Aren’t you worried that the tree will catch fire due to the candles? Nope. Luckily, that has never happened to us before.


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


German word of the day: Rücksicht

Here's how to take this thoughtful word into consideration.

German word of the day: Rücksicht

Why do I need to know Rücksicht?

Because it’s a commonly used word and knowing what it means – and practising it – will make you a better person.

What does Rücksicht mean?

Rücksicht is a feminine noun which means “consideration” or “regard”. It’s made up of the shortened form of the word zurück meaning “back” and Sicht – which means view. So literally, it means, back view, or looking back.

This literal meaning tells you something about how the word is used in German – if you look back to see what’s happened to your friend, you are taking them into consideration.

If you want to really make sure you don’t forget what Rücksicht means – you can watch the following video of Germany’s 1983 Eurovision song contest entry. The catchy ballad – called “Rücksicht” – came in place 5 of the competition that year. 

How to use Rücksicht

When using Rücksicht, bear in mind that it is usually paired with specific verbs and prepositions.

The most commonly used set phrase is Rücksicht auf etwas/jemand nehmen, which is used to mean “to be considerate of” or “to take care of” someone or something. For example:

Radfahrer müssen auf Fußgänger Rücksicht nehmen.

Cyclists must be considerate of pedestrians.

Er nimmt Rücksicht auf die Bedürfnisse seiner schwangeren Frau.

He takes care of his pregnant wife’s needs.

Rücksicht is usually followed by the preposition auf, but it can be preceded by a number of prepositions to compose different phrases. 

Mit Rücksicht auf for example, means “in view of” and ohne Rücksicht auf means “without consideration for”, while aus Rücksicht auf means “out of consideration for.” 

Here are some examples:

Führungen dürfen aus Rücksicht auf die Teilnehmer nicht aufgenommen werden.
Out of consideration of the participants, tours may not be recorded.
Er will tun, was er möchte, ohne Rücksicht auf die Anderen.
He wants to do what he wants, without considering other people.