German Christmas (Weihnachten) is not much different from American or British Christmas in many ways. There is still a tree, there are still gifts, and there is a lot of food involved. However, some customs and traditions are particularly unique to the German world. Read on for an overview of the holiday season in this culture.
How Germans celebrate Christmas
In Germany, the Christmas celebrations officially begin at advent. Advent is the time of the year between December 1st and December 24th. During this time, children receive advent calendars with windows for each day until the Eve of Christmas, in other words with a total of 24 windows. Every day they open a new window and receive a treat. Germany is well-known for their beautiful Christmas markets. They feature festively decorated booths selling gifts, a lot of them hand-made and tasty treats such as mulled wine and gingerbread. The scent of a German Christmas Market is unique and attracting at the same time. It’s a mix of ginger, sweetness of the mullet wine and grilled sausages. Once you’ve smelled it you can’t resist the temptation. Christmas songs, performed by local singers, contribute to the festive atmosphere.
Families throughout the country adorn the Advent wreath (Adventskranz) with four candles, one of which is lit on each of the four Sundays preceding Christmas.
On December 24th, businesses close in preparation for Christmas. Immediate and extended families get together, decorate the trees, eat meals, sing carols, read the story of Christ’s birth aloud, and open gifts. Indeed, gifts are opened in the evening of the 24th, Christmas Eve. Many families also attend the Christmas Eve church services that night.
The celebrations continue into Christmas Day. Whereas no gifts are opened on Christmas day, this day witnesses families and friends coming together to enjoy large brunch and dinner. Popular Christmas dishes are for example: roasted goose, duck or rabbit with potatoes, potato dumplings or Spätzle and on the side red cabbage.
Come the 26th, families visit friends and extended family members and watch movies on television.
In Germany, both December 25th and 26th are legal-holidays and are often called the 1st and 2nd Christmas Day respectively.
History of German Christmas Holiday
Mid-winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of Jesus and Christianity, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.
In Germany, people honored the pagan god Oden through Yule, a mid-winter pagan festival. They particularly used this festival to celebrate fertility and harvest in the darkest days of winter. Even though the Germanic people honored Oden, they were terrified of him. They believed that he had the powers to make nocturnal flights through the sky and observe his people before deciding those who would prosper or perish.
When Christianization took root in Germany in the early middle ages, Yule’s date was fixed as December 25th to coincide with what was believed to be the date Christ was born.