Christmas is celebrated all over the world. However, each country has its own customs, which are an integral part of the celebration. Even in Germany there are Christmas traditions that should not be missing on the holidays.
Since you’ve surely enjoyed the first taste of Christmas and you’ve strolled through some Christmas markets, eaten gingerbread and speculoos in raw quantities, drunk up the mulled wine supplies and can’t hear "Last Christmas" anymore, here comes a detailed post about the most important holiday of the year for Germans, where the whole family gets together and celebrates. And even if the festivities can differ significantly from family to family, there are some customs and rituals that are probably cultivated and celebrated in the same way in almost every family:
The Advent season
Christmas in Germany is not only limited to Christmas Eve and the two following Christmas holidays. The starting signal for the Christmas season is given weeks before, more precisely four Sundays before Christmas Eve, on the first Advent. At the same time, at the latest, all Christmas markets open (you can also read my last post again) and most families have brought out their Christmas decorations.
Of course, the decorations and the colors chosen and preferred vary greatly from family to family. However, I would claim in almost every family, which decorates the own home festively, the Advent wreath may not be missing. Each Advent wreath carries 4 candles, of which from now on every Advent Sunday one more is lit, so that on Christmas Eve all candles light up. By the way, people congratulate each other on every Advent and wish their counterpart "a happy first (second, third or fourth) Advent".
Advent is also the time of year when people often get together with friends and family to bake cookies and stollen, to eat together and drink mulled wine, and to let the year end in a quiet and relaxed way. Also quite untypical for Germans. One takes time for the beautiful things, lets also times fives be straight and it seems as if everything is a little slower and more gediegener.
Even offices and companies are not spared the Advent season: traditionally, the festive Christmas parties take place during these last weeks before Christmas. So if you work at a chair or somewhere else, you can usually look forward to a Christmas celebration!
The Advent calendar
The Advent calendar delights children in particular and is intended to increase anticipation and shorten the wait until Christmas Eve. But I would claim that the calendar is also for many adults an absolute must-have of the Advent season and reason for being allowed to be a child once again. It is a calendar with 24 doors, of which from the 1. December until Christmas Eve every day a new may be opened. Depending on the calendar, behind each door there is a picture with wintry motifs, sweets or other small surprises that sweeten the time until Christmas. In addition, there are also many families, couples and friends who make their loved ones an Advent calendar themselves, so that the calendar is personalized and very special.
A very special day during the pre-Christmas period, in addition to the Sundays in Advent, is St. Nicholas Day in Germany, when the boots and shoes (of the children) are cleaned overnight (from 5 to 6 a.m.).12) are filled with small gifts and sweets. For this, however, the shoes must be properly polished on the eve in front of the door to be placed. This custom goes back to Saint Nicholas, who lived as a bishop in Myra, Turkey, in 340 A.D. and was considered particularly merciful. He gave away everything he owned and could beg for to poor people and children. This patron saint of children is traditionally honored on the day of his death, the 6th of December. December, thought. However, only good children are rewarded by St. Nicholas; bad ones are threatened with the rod of Knecht Ruprecht, his sinister companion.
Despite the fact that Christmas Eve is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, Germans who do not profess any faith also celebrate Christmas – a total of 78 percent. Celebrating Christmas is an important family tradition for most people. About one in four Germans even goes to church at Christmas.
After four weeks (some even longer) of eating our way through Advent calendars and Christmas markets, drinking lots of mulled wine and baking tons of cookies, surviving the annual shopping frenzy and all the Christmas parties, and wrapping our homes in fairy lights and tinsel, the time has finally come: Christmas Eve has arrived and with it the climax of the German Christmas season. By the way: Even if it is the most important Christmas day for us, the 24. December is not an official holiday, which means that most stores are open until 2 p.m. So if you want, you can still buy last minute gifts or ingredients for the big Christmas dinner. But I warn you, there is a war going on in the stores. So you can forget about relaxed shopping and I can only advise you to do all your errands well in advance.
What else happens on this day? The 24. December, divides for many into a usually hectic morning and a festive part in the evening. In many families, the tree is now festively decorated and a nativity scene is set up, while in the kitchen there is a lot of activity or not, because about what comes on the table at Christmas, the opinions and traditions are quite far apart. In many families there is a feast, which often consists of roast goose and dumplings or the traditional Christmas carp. Here the kitchen is usually occupied hours before and it is tinkered what the stuff holds. In other families the big feast is postponed to the first or second day of Christmas and on Christmas Eve there is only a quick meal such as sausages with potato salad. For some, potato salad with sausages may seem anything but festive and rather alienating. In fact, this meal is the most traditional meal in Germany, which is served in almost every second German household on Christmas Eve. This is mainly due to the fact that, according to ancient Christian tradition, from St. Martin’s Day on 11. November to the 24. December was fasted, so that on Christmas Eve a simple dish was dished up.
After preparations are complete, families gather in the early evening. Some maintain traditions such as singing or playing music together. After the meal comes the presentation of presents: then the gifts under the Christmas tree can be unwrapped. Children had already written a wish list to the Christ Child weeks before Christmas and are waiting excitedly to see if their wishes will be fulfilled.
After the Bescherung it goes – at least for the catholic and believing part of the population – into the Christmette. This is the most important service of the Christmas holiday, celebrating the birth of Jesus at midnight. Families with small children, on the other hand, often attend the children’s service, which takes place in the afternoon.
Young people who have returned to their parents’ hometown for the holidays often head out again late at night to catch up with old friends.
The Christmas holidays
In most countries, the 25. December, the actual birthday of Christ, the Christmas highlight. In Germany, people just keep on celebrating – without presents, but with church services and more food and drink. The two official holidays are also used to visit relatives and friends and to end the Christmas season as cozy and relaxed as possible, so that after that you roll back to work round as a ball before the next festive New Year’s Eve is coming up. But more about this in the coming posts. Now I wish you first of all a contemplative pre-Christmas period, in which you hopefully get to know many traditions and customs yourself and perhaps even take one or the other ritual home with you after your time in Germany and continue it there.
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