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CHRISTMAS

German word of the day: der Weihnachtsbaumschmuck

You have to know this great German word that will come in handy this month - and may (or may not) involve a Christmas pickle.

Der Weihnachtsbaumschmuck is written on a blackboard.
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Around the world Christmas trees are decorated and lit up with colourful baubles and traditional figurines. In Germany, these decorations are called “Weihnachtsbaumschmuck”. 

The first part refers to the German word for “Christmas”, der Baum is “tree” and der Schmuck comes from the verb schmücken, “to decorate”.

The noun “Schmuck” can therefore have many translations; on its own it can mean jewellery such as necklaces, hoops and rings, or it can mean decorations, which is the meaning used in relation to this time of year. 

The word also has an underlying sense of something that is beautiful and tasteful. Der Weihnachtsbaumschmuck or der Christbaumschmuck therefore translates to Christmas tree decorations.

READ ALSO: How Germany invented Christmas as we know it

A Christmas tree with decorations in Weißenfels, Saxony-Anhalt.
A Christmas tree with decorations in Weißenfels, Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Willnow

The custom of decorating Christmas trees first began in Germany in the 16th century, where evergreen trees were adorned with apples and nuts. Martin Luther was then credited with adding lit candles to the tree to represent stars.

Nowadays, Christmas trees can feature everything from baubles, fairy lights, tinsel, candy canes and figurines. Traditionally, people in Germany do not put their tree up until the 24th or December, which is also their main day of festive celebration.

However, it is getting more common to put the tree up a few days or even weeks earlier, in order to fully enjoy the decorative “Schmuck”.

What Christmas tree decorations are popular in Germany?

Traditionally, ornaments made out of wood, such as the popular figure of the nutcracker or hand-blown glass, usually baubles, are hung up on the tree. The classic bauble, or “Christbaumkugel” replaced the apple decoration and is thought to have been invented in the glassblowing region of Lauscha in Thuringia.

Angels are another common feature on Christmas trees in Germany, specifically representing the Christkind, which is the angel figure delivering presents in many regions of Germany, taking over the typical role of Father Christmas.

Other decorations include symbolic ornaments, such as the ladybug, a common symbol for good luck in Germany and birds, representing peace and wisdom.

However, the belief that Germans hang up a Christmas pickle hidden in their trees for someone to find is largely a myth. Nonetheless, you will still be able to find kitschy Christmas pickle decorations around Christmas markets and shops in Germany, as well as the hand-carved or glass classics –  Käthe Wohlfahrt is the most popular company selling Christmas decorations in Germany year-round. 

READ ALSO: Are Christmas pickle ornaments really a German tradition?

Examples:

Jetzt, wo wir unseren Baum gekauft haben, ist es an der Zeit, ihn mit Christbaumschmuck zu schmücken.

Now that we’ve bought our tree it is time to decorate it with Christmas tree ornaments.

Viele glauben, dass die Weihnachtsgurke in Deutschland ein traditioneller Weihnachtsbaumschmuck ist.

Many believe the Christmas pickle to be a traditional Christmas tree decoration in Germany.

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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German word of the day: Los

This tiny German word has a huge range of meanings.

German word of the day: Los

Why do I need to know los?

Because it’s a very common word in spoken German which crops up everywhere, from yoga classes to unemployment offices. We explain how it’s used below. 

What does it mean?

The word los has a wide variety of uses in the German language – it can be a noun, adjective, adverb, interjection, as well as a prefix and a suffix.

As an adjective it means “loose” in English and is used to describe something not firmly or tightly fixed in place. This is the kind of los you’re most likely to encounter in everyday life. If a German friend asks you why you’re looking a bit down, for example, they’ll probably say:

Was ist mit dir los?

This literally means “what’s loose with you?” but is used to mean “what’s up”?

Similarly, if there’s some commotion on the street outside your office, a German colleague might ask:

Was ist da los?

What’s up there?

Los is also commonly used as an exclamation, meaning “Go!”

Riders hold their grips on the steering wheel at the start of the second stage of the Tour de France in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/BELGA | Pool

At the start of a race, for example, instead of “On your marks – get set – Go!” you’ll hear auf die Plätze – fertig – Los!

You’ll also hear this type of los as a general encouragement or as an order to someone to make a move:

Worauf wartest du? Los!

What are you waiting for? Go!

Los as a prefix and suffix

When it appears at the beginning of a verb, los expresses the idea of starting or going. The verb losgehen, for example, means “to get going”, while loslassen  – a favourite of German yoga teachers – means “to let go”.

When it appears at the end of a word, however, -los has a similar meaning to the English suffix “-less,” such as nutzlos (useless), harmlos (harmless) and arbeitslos (jobless).

Los as a noun

As a noun, das Los has a very different definition and means “fate” or “lot”. Stemming from this meaning, das Los is also a common word for “lottery ticket” in German.

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