Seven classic German Christmas traditions still taking place in the pandemic
Even amid restrictions, the Christmas spirit in Germany is alive and kicking. Here are seven key traditions you'll likely see (or taste) in the Bundesrepublik.
A wonderful aspect of living in Germany is experiencing Christmastime celebrations. Despite pandemic difficulties, there are still myriad ways to celebrate and get in the spirit. While some of the traditions are global in nature, others are unique to Germany.
Here are a few vital German Christmas traditions to make you feel cheery and festive in a distinctly German way.
Little chocolates and gifts for four weeks
Typical advent calenders. Photo: DPA
Why celebrate Christmas on just one day, when you can celebrate it for four festive weeks? In Germany, folks often cherish the entire Advent season, which spans across the four weeks leading to up to Christmas. “Advent” means “coming” in Latin, and for religious observers symbolizes the coming of Jesus to the world.
Germans typically mark this month-long celebration with Advent calendars (Adventskalender), which are little cartons of chocolates or sweets portioned into little boxes with the corresponding date, to be eaten on each day of the season.
READ ALSO: German word of the day: Der Adventskalender
They are typically festively adorned with winter imagery or nativity scenes. Sometimes, little poems or parts of a story are inscribed on the panel for each day. Parents will often make Advent calendars for their children from scratch, wrapping the sweets individually, or will buy them pre-prepared at supermarkets.
For some, Advent presents will extend beyond treats, and are rather little gifts. These presents are strung upon a wall near the Christmas tree, for children to open each day.
The Advent Wreath
An 'Adventkranz' in Regen's city centre on December 11th. Photo: DPA
The Advent wreath (Adventskranz) also marks the month-long Christmas season. Instead of hanging a wreath on the front door, Advent wreaths in Germany typically lay atop a communal table, and have four big candles, one for each week leading up to Christmas day.
The candles are lit on each progressive Sunday of advent, and are often made from scratch. Churchgoers often mark each Sunday of Advent by attending a church service.
Christmas Stollen and Lebkuchen
A Stollen baker in the dessert's hub of Dresden. Photo: DPA
Christmas would not be complete without sweets. Thankfully, the Germans have some lovely options. Weihnachtsstollen is a bread with spices, nuts, dried fruits topped with powdered sugar. Candied orange and lemon peels are usually a prime ingredient that give this cake-like bread its classic zestiness.
Lebkuchen, another popular December treat, is Germany’s answer to gingerbread. Typically sweetened with honey, this dense cookie-cake concoction is often seasoned with cloves, cardamom, ginger, allspice, and various nuts.
Pieces of Lebkuchen are often molded into heart shapes (Lebkuchenherzen) and decorated with icing. They are a prominent fixture in Christmas and farmers markets throughout the season.
Filled boots that children left out for Nikolaus Day. Photo: DPA
If there is anything to take away from German Christmas celebrations, it is that presents are not contained to just one day!
One the eve of December 6th, known as Saint Nikolaus Day, children put their shoes outside their door or hang socks along the fireplace when they go to sleep.
If well-behaved, they are rewarded with little sweets and presents when they awake in the morning, delivered by the benevolent Saint Nikolaus in the nighttime.
Children will write letters to Saint Nikolas thanking him for his efforts, and will often leave him little sweets to sustain him on his journey throughout the evening.
Baby Jesus brings the presents, sort of...
Children deliver their Christmas mail to 'Christkind' in Engelkirchen, North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: DPA
In southern parts of Germany, it is neither Santa Claus nor Saint Nikolaus who brings presents for the little ones.
Rather is it Christkind, a golden angelic figure (who despite resembling a golden-haired lady also represents the baby Jesus), who brings gifts. Presents are typically opened on Christmas Eve, and the 25th is saved for cooking and feasting.
Warm up and glow up with seasoned wine
Glühwein, literally translated to “glowing wine”, is a delicious concoction of red wine, sugar, and winter spices (like cinnamon, cloves, anise, and orange).
Glühwein stands pop up on seemingly every corner, and are a prominent fixture in German Christmas markets. To warm up even more, you can add a shot of brandy or rum to spike this delightful mulled wine drink. Ask for “Glühwein mit Schuss” and you’ll be buzzing and glowing despite the frigid temperatures.
Another enticing drink is called Feuerzangebowle. It makes a dramatic entrance, as it is made by lighting a rum-soaked sugar cube on fire, letting the alcoholic sugar drip into a wintery mug of Glühwein. The name of this drink –– translated directly to “fire-tongs punch”–– does provide a warning of this drink’s potency.
Fasting, then Feasting
A typical Christmas meal being served in Hamburg in 2018. Photo: DPA
According to traditional Christion belief, the time between November 11th and December 24th is to be spent fasting and piously reflecting. As people do not tend to fast as they did historically, the meal served on December 24th is normally rather humble and simple to remind folks of the historical practice of fasting. Normally a simple dish of sausages and potato salad is served.
On December 25th the revelling begins! The delectable Christmas day meal varies depending on region and family tradition, but traditionally a roast goose, potato dumplings, and red cabbage are served.