Christmas in Germany is truly a magical time of the year!
The holiday season starts about a month before Christmas in Germany, on the first Sunday of Advent which is also the first Sunday of December. It is usually on this first weekend that Weihnachtsmarkten (Christmas Markets) open throughout Germany and what a sight they are! There is nothing quite like it in the English-speaking world. The whole town centre or the market square (Marktplatz) is decorated with lights and ornaments. Small booths are set up, the ice rink is in place and the smells of cooking wurst (sausages) and Glühwein (a spiced warm red wine) are quite extraordinary!
One of the best known markets is the Christkindlesmarkt in
Christmas Markets in Würzburg, Schweinfurt and Bamberg are also worth a visit. But other smaller ones, such as Heidelberg or Bad Wimpfen, are just as nice.
You will find in these markets anything you need for Christmas in Germany, from food to decorations to gifts of all sizes and prices.
You will also find specialties that are not available at any other time of the year, such as Lebkuchen (Gingerbread), Stollen (a rather dry coffee cake made with nuts and fruits), Früchtebrot (a fruit cake) and Springerle (a very dry meringue cookie), as well as dozen of cookie varieties. It is actually just about the only time of the year when you will see home-made cookies in Germany on public display!
Other traditional decorations and gifts for Christmas in Germany include: Weihnachtspyramide a wooden pyramid with candles that make a small attached propeller turn; the Schwibbogen, a carved wooden candle-holder in the shape of an arch, also known as German Candle Arches; wooden nutcrackers of all sizes; the Kerzenhausen, which are beautiful hand-painted ceramic Bavarian candle houses; and of course, all kinds of hand-made Christmas tree ornaments in glass, wood, or metal, ranging from little mice to big Santas and everything in between.
Just looking at all these old European style decorations make you feel like you are in wonderland! They possess a quality of craftsmanship that is hard to find in North America.
Another nice aspect of these markets is that, except for the local Carolers singing together while sipping Glühwein, you won't hear very much insipid Christmas muzak playing over and over again. A little word of caution about the Glühwein (mulled wine) sold in these markets: most Germans we talked to told us that the only good one is a home made one! And you can buy, in some booths that also sell teas and spices, special little packages to make your own. However, I think Glühwein must be an acquired taste, not for everyone.
Germans do put up decorations of outdoor lights quite early in the season but they reserve the Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas tree) decorating for the 24th of December. Some of them still use candles in the tree, but they light them only for a short time on the eve of Christmas in Germany.
Another German tradition associated with the season is the visit of Sankt-Nikolaus (Saint-Nicholas) on the evening of December 5th. In Germany, Sankt-Nikolaus is described as a tall and thin man dressed like a bishop and wearing a tall hat. His bishop`s costume is usually red, but we have seen other colours such as blue, silver, green etc. On this evening, children place one shoe at the foot of their beds in the hope that St-Nick will leave them a nice little gift, nowadays usually chocolates in the shape of St-Nick. Stores will also sometimes give you a chocolate like this with your purchase on December 5th.
In some areas of Germany, Sankt-Nikolaus does not travel alone: Knecht Ruprecht or Krampus comes with him to give a piece of coal or a stick to the children who did not behave during the year!
The really big gifts are usually opened on the 24th of December in the evening (Heiliger Abend), before or after Christmas mass. In the south of Germany, it is the Christkind (literally:'the Christ child') who brings the gifts. This Christkind is more like an angel and does not resemble Jesus.
In other regions, it is Weihnachtsmann (Christmas man) who brings the gifts before Christmas in Germany. This fellow is more similar to Santa Claus.
Last note: most stores closed at noon on the 24th of December and do not reopen before the 27th as the 25th and the 26th are national holidays.
If you or a friend would like to know more about living in Germany, our eGuide "How to painlessly relocate to Germany" is the perfect gift! Just click on the picture to have a better look!
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A Year in Germany
This book is made of entries from a travelog that we kept during one year in Germany. It should not be seen as a collection of facts as much as a rendering of what we felt and thought at the time. It has been a great adventure of discoveries and we would like to share them with you!
Merry Christmas in Germany!!
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And Merry Christmas to you all!
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