Frohe Weihnachten: What a Merry Christmas Looks Like in Germany

Frohe Weihnachten: What a Merry Christmas Looks Like in Germany

When you think of the Christmas holidays, what comes to mind? Do you picture houses decorated in festive Christmas lights? Eggnog and sugar cookies to keep the season cozy? Or a Christmas morning surprise, when Santa has come and left gifts under the tree? While these are all great examples of American Christmas traditions, the Germans do it a little differently. They probably picture festive Adventskränze, steaming mugs of Glühwein, or a cozy Christmas Eve of opening gifts and sharing a meal. Christmas, or Weihnachten, and how its celebrated in Germany reveals a lot about German culture and history. There’s a lot to be learned about German Culture from these Christmas traditions. Today, Germany is a slightly majority Christian country, with this number split between Catholics and Protestants. This long history of Christianity in the country has shaped how important Christmas is, with 78% of Germans celebrating Christmas, even if they do not consider themselves faithful. Many parts of German Christmas culture and traditions have found themselves imported to the United States, including the tradition of setting up a Christmas tree, or Weihnachtsbaum.

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Christmas in Germany (Blog Banner)Let’s take a look at some other typical German holiday traditions, and what we can learn about Germany and German culture from them.

Das Essen- Food

There are a number of traditional foods that the German people save to enjoy for the advent season. These include, Plätzchen, Lebkuchen, and Stollen. Plätzchen, or “small cookies” are baked during the Christmas holiday. There are many different types of Plätzchen, including Zimtsterne, “cinnamon stars,” Vanillekipferl “vanilla crescents”, and Spitzbube or Linzer Auge. Stollen, a yeast-based sweet bread dotted with fruits, dates all the way back to 1329, when a Bishop from the city of Naumburg mentioned the sweet treat when referencing Christmastime. Today, you can find Stollen in almost every grocery store and Christmas market, with Dresdener Stollen, or “Stollen from Dresden,” being the most popular. Last but not least is the famous German Lebkuchen, or “gingerbread.” Lebkuchen dates back further than Stollen, all the way to the 13th century. It was thought that monks in this time ate this spiced bread with strong beer during periods of fasting. Today, Lebkuchen is enjoyed all across Germany as a traditional German Christmas treat. While Dresden is famous for its Stollen, Nürnberg takes the cake for having the most famous Lebkuchen.

PlätzchenTraditionen- Traditions

There are a number of traditions enjoyed in the Germany at Christmas time, two of which being the tradition of Adventskränze, or “advent wreath,” and Adventskalender, or “advent calendar.” The Adventskränze date back to 1839, when a pastor first fixed the four traditional advents candles to a wreath. These four candles are lit on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. While the Adventskränze can even be found in America in most churches, many German households have a version of the Adventskranz, and German florists, as well as home and decoration stores are full of this Christmas fixture. Some family and friends gather each year to craft their own wreaths from scratch.

The Adventskalender follows a similar tradition, with people opening a small door on the calendar and finding a treat inside on each of the twenty-four days leading up to Christmas. These also came from Germany, starting later in the early 1900s, and are loved today throughout the country, with almost every major store producing its own version of Adventskalender. Even some German restaurants and other businesses do their own version of the Adventskalender, with specials and promotions happening on each day leading up to Christmas.

 AdventskalenderAktivitäten- Activities

Germans also take advantage of the holiday season to come together and celebrate with friends. Leading up to Christmas, almost every major city in Germany has a traditional Weihnachtsmarkt, or Christmas market. Christmas markets date back centuries, and have roots in the traditional Wochenmärkte, or weekly farmers markets, that would take place in towns. Christmas markets selling goods go all the way back to the 14th century. Today, millions visit these markets every year, enjoying traditional German Glühwein, or mulled wine, and other snacks. Markets open shortly before, or on the first Advent Sunday, and run through the Christmas season, acting as a gathering place for all those wanting respite from the cold, and to enjoy the Christmas spirit. To any foreigner or tourist adjusting to German culture, the Weihnachtsmarkt is the perfect place to expose yourself to some very old and cherished German traditions.

However, all of this baking, advent calendar opening, and Christmas market visiting leads up to one important occasion: Christmas. Traditional Christmas celebrations in Germany take place mostly on the 24th of December, or Heilige Abend, with families gathering to eat a meal together and exchange gifts, different from how American families typically save their gift exchange for the 25th. The 24th in Germany is still a half-day, with the 25th and 26th being holidays for the country, and days when people have off and all stores are closed. These are days for people to relax and visit loved ones.

This short list only scratches the surface at how Germans celebrate Christmas, but hopefully reveals a little bit more about the culture and history of the country. To close, we wish you a hearty Frohe Weihnachten, as the Germans say, which means “Merry Christmas.”

Frohe Weihnachten

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