A big part of the Christmas celebrations in Germany is Advent. Several different types of Advent calendars are used in German homes.
Besides the traditional fact of cards that are used in many countries, there are some made with a wreath of fir branches with 24 boxes or decorated bags hanging from it. Each box or bag has a small gift. Another type is called ‘Advent Kranz’ and it is a ring of fir branches that has four candles. This is like the Advent candles that are sometimes used in churches. A candle is lit at the beginning of each week in Advent.
Christmas trees are very important in Germany. They were used for the first time in Germany at the end of the Middle Ages. If there are small children in the house, the trees are usually decorated in secret by the mother of the family. The Christmas tree was traditionally brought to the house on Christmas Eve. In some parts of Germany, during the night, the family read the Bible and sang Christmas songs such as O Tannenbaum, Ihr Kinderlein Kommet and Stille Nacht (Night of Slient).
Sometimes, the wooden frames, covered with colored plastic sheets and with electric candles inside, are placed on the windows so that the house looks nice from the outside.
Christmas Eve is the main day when the Germans exchange gifts with their families.
In German Happy / Merry Christmas is ‘Frohe Weihnachten’. Happy / Merry Christmas in many more languages.
Christmas day is called “Erste Feiertag” (“first celebration”) and on December 26 it is known as “Zweite Feiertag” (“second celebration”) and also “Zweiter Weihnachtsfeiertag”, which translates as Boxing Day (although does not literally mean that)!
Germany is well known for its Christmas markets where all kinds of Christmas food and decorations are sold. Perhaps the most famous German decorations are the glass ornaments. The glass ornaments were originally hand-blown glass and were imported into the United States in 1880 by the Woolworth stores. The glass legend ‘Christmas Pickle’ is famous in the United States, but that’s it, a legend. Most people in Germany have never heard of Christmas Pickle!
In some parts of Germany, mainly in the southeast of the country, children write to ‘das Christkind / Christkindl’ asking for gifts. The letters to Christianity are decorated with sugar attached to the envelope to make them bright and attractive. Children leave the letters on the window sill at the beginning or during Advent.
‘das Christkind’ is translated as ‘The Baby Jesus’ in English, but the Germans do not think of Christkind as the baby Jesus! Christianity is often described as a girl with qualities “like Christ”. In Nürnberg, a young woman is chosen each year to participate in a parade such as Christkind. She wears a long white and gold gown, she has long curly blond hair and wears a golden crown and, sometimes, wings like an angel. This is similar to Saint Lucia is Sweden. (And it may seem a bit confusing to call the “Baby Jesus”, Jesus, a girl!)
The Nürnberg Christkind officially opens the Christmas market on Friday before the start of Advent.
And before Christmas, she has more than 150 ‘official functions’ that include visits to hospitals, nursing homes and day care centers! She also has to give television interviews and visit other cities.
Santa Claus or Santa Claus (der Weihnachtsmann) brings the main Christmas gifts on December 24th. You can also write a letter to Weihnachtsmann in other parts of Germany. Some people say Santa / Santa Claus (Weihnachtsmann) brings gifts and others say it’s Christkind!
In addition to waiting for gifts from Christkind or der Weihnachtsmann, some children also expect ‘der Nikolaus’ to bring them some small gifts, such as sweets and chocolate on December 6 (St. Nicholas Day). It comes in the night between 5 and 6 and puts the gifts in the place of the children, who usually place them next to their doors. You can also knock on the door and the children will have to sing a song, play a song with an instrument or tell a story to San Nicolás before he gives them his gifts.
In some regions of Germany, there is a character called “Knecht Ruprecht” or “Krampus” who accompanies Nikolaus (San Nicolás) on December 6. It is a big monster with horns dressed in rags and wearing chains. It is meant to punish children who have been bad! He is usually the one who scares little kids. In other parts of Germany, San Nicolás is followed by a small person named “Schwarzer Peter” (Peter Black) who carries a small whip. Black Peter also accompanies San Nicolás or Sinterklaas in the Netherlands. In northwestern Germany, Santa Claus is joined by Belsnickel, a man dressed all in fur. Although ‘der Nikolaus’ visits in December, it’s not officially part of Christmas!
In small workplaces and school parties, secret gifts are often exchanged. A door is opened wide enough for small gifts to be thrown into the room. Gifts are passed between people until each person has the correct present! It is thought that it is bad luck to find out who sent each gift.
Another tradition is the Sternsinger (or star singers) who go from house to house, sing a song and raise money for charity (this is a predominantly Catholic tradition). The singers are usually four children, three who dress like wise men and one carries a star on a stick as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem. When they finish singing, they write a signature with chalk on the door of the house. The sign is written in a special way, so 2018 would be: 20 * C * M * B * 18. It is considered bad luck to wash the sign, it has to vanish on its own. In general, it has faded until January 6 (Epiphany). The Sternsinger visit houses between December 27 and January 6.