December 24th: Heiligabend, Christmas Eve
As is the case across most of Western Europe, Germany’s main day of celebration for Christmas is the 24th, the so-called “Heiligabend”.
In the morning of the 24th, the Christmas tree is put up and decorated, and in the evening, children get to open their presents.
Shops usually close earlier on this day, and businesses shut for the whole day or a half day.
However, while Christmas Eve is the main event of the German Christmas calendar, the 25th and 26th are still designated “Feiertage” (celebration days/holidays) with their own festive traditions.
December 25th: Der erste Feiertag/Weihnachtstag, the First Christmas Day
The day after the big present opening is usually more family-centered and a lot quieter – especially as all the shops will be closed.
Many of the Catholic and Protestant faith use Christmas Day to go to church for a festive service, and most in Germany will have a big, lavish feast. The dinner often features the classic Christmas goose with potato dumplings and red cabbage, but others opt for a raclette fondue.
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The main meal taking place on this day is due to the tradition of fasting from St. Martin’s Day in November until Christmas Eve, where a simple meal such as potato salad or carp is served.
December 26th: Der zweite Feiertag/Weihnachtstag, the Second Christmas Day
Known as Boxing Day in English-speaking countries, this final festive day is often marked as a day of reflection of the past year and the new year to come – it is also a public holiday in Germany meaning all the shops will still be closed. However, an exciting and unique custom begins on this day.
Christmas tree praising is a fabulous tradition in southern Germany, specifically southern Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, where visitors come to your home to admire and compliment your tree, usually with a reward of one (but probably a few more) glasses of schnapps.
Because Christmas trees are traditionally put up on Christmas Eve in Germany (at least traditionally), the praising of the Christmas tree occurs during the period “zwischen den Jahren”, or between the years, meaning the period between Christmas and New Year.
While this tradition can happen between neighbours – and can be a great way to get to know your community – it is often a feature of a group; for example, the staff of a small business or members of a football team will go to each individual’s house to praise their Christmas trees one by one.
The praising can sometimes take an entire day and can end up quite merry. It can also get pretty competitive, with the most lavish, over the top tree being hailed the winner and given a special prize (most likely also in the form of a festive beverage).
As we are still in a pandemic this activity may have to be scaled back, but could happen in small groups.