German Advent word of the day: Der Heiligabend

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

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

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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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.