German Advent word of the day: Der Heiligabend

Kathrin Thams
Kathrin Thams - [email protected]
German Advent word of the day: Der Heiligabend
Photo: DPA

Presents, a Christmas tree and cookies are part of most people's Christmas. But what makes up a German Christmas?


Christmas Eve is special for everyone in Germany, even though it is celebrated quite differently across the country.

What does it mean?

The word “Der Heiligabend” is put together with “heilig” (holy) and “Abend” (evening) and refers to the 24th of December-Christmas Eve.

“Der Heiligabend” has many names, depending on the family or region of Germany you live in.

Some call it “Christnacht” (Christ night), “Heiliger Abend” (holy night), “Weihnachtsabend” (Christmas evening), “Christfest” (Christ fest) “Beschertag” (bestow day), or simply “Weihnacht(en)” (Christmas).

What role does “der Heiligabend” play in Germany?

In Germany, Christmas is celebrated on the evening of December 24th.

By then the tree is standing and decorated, the “Plätzchen” (cookies) and “Stollen” have been baked, and it is dark outside so that the candles on the tree shine brightly.

For most people, “Heiligabend” means celebrating with your family, eating tasty food such as cooked goose (many families have their feast on the 25th) or simply “Kartoffelsalat” (potato salad), and sharing gifts under the tree.

In the “Erzgebirge” (Ore mountain region of Germany) it is tradition to eat “Neunerlei” on Christmas Eve. This is a nine-course meal put together differently by every family's tradition.

However, in North Rhine-Westphalia people often eat a cooked goose, and about one third of Germans eat “Würstchen mit Kartoffelsalat” (Sausages with potato salad).

Many people also sing songs, recite poems or Christmas stories, and others play games.

Some also watch a Christmas movie.

In the US it might be “It’s a wonderful life” or “A Christmas Carol” and in Germany it might be the children’s film “Beutelomäus”.

A special part of German Christmas is also the “Christmette” (Christmas mass), or “Gottesdienst” (church service), often with its “Krippenspiel” (nativity play).

Here, laymen or often children perform a piece about “die Geburt Christi” (the birth of Christ).

A bishop in Hannover holding the Christmas mass, Photo: DPA

But all in all, every family has their own tradition and unique way of celebrating Christmas.


“Wie viele Tage noch bis Heiligabend!?”

“How many days until Christmas Eve!?”

“Ich hoffe, dass ich dieses mal an Heiligabend den Weihnachtsmann sehe. Letztes Jahr habe ich ja nur ein Stück seines Mantels im Fenster stecken gefunden.”

“I hope that this year I will see Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. Last year I only found a piece of his coat stuck in the window.”


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