Christmas in Germany
Christmas in Germany is an important holiday, just as it is in America. The words Merry Christmas in German are Froehliche Weihnachten.
In Germany there are several different celebrations in December including advent, the countdown to Christmas Day; Nikolaustag (St. Nicholas Day) on the 6th; Heilgabend (Holy Eve, German equivalent of Christmas Eve) on the 24th; Weihnachten (Christmas Day) on the 25th; zweite Weihnachtstag (Second Christmas Day) on the 26th; and Silvester (New Year's Day) on the 31st. Much like our Christmas, Christmas in Germany is about spending time with the family, sharing gifts, eating good food and celebrating the birth of Jesus.
During the four months before Christmas, Germans celebrate advent with the usual advent calendar, which has been around since 1851. Every day until Christmas, a little window of the advent calendar is opened revealing a candy or other little token. In many cities in Germany, the town hall acts as a large advent calendar. Every day a lit window is revealed showing a decorative painted picture. Also for advent, special wreathes are hung with four candles, one for each week before Christmas.
December 6 is Nikolaustag, St. Nicholas Day. It is a Christian holiday based on a 16h century tradition. The night of the 5th, children set out their shoes in hopes that the next morning the shoes are filled with candy, toys and gifts by St. Nikolaus if they have been good children. If they have not been good, the shoes are filled with twigs.
Heilgabend (Christmas Eve) is the main Christmas celebration rather than Christmas Day. On the evening of the 24th the Christmas tree, called the Tannenbaum, is set up. The children of the household are not allowed to see the tree until it is fully decorated and trimmed. They are brought into a separate room while the parent decorates the tree. It is a wonderful surprise when the bell is rung for the kids to enter the room and see the tree, decked out with real candles or lights, little treats and candies, trinkets and other fun things. Also in the evening Christian families go to church for a special mass. Then they eat a giant feast, which may consist of foods such as suckling pig, "reisbrei" (a sweet cinnamon), white sausage, macaroni salad, and many regional dishes. Also popular in Germany are Nativity scenes.
And now we are brought to Christmas Day, Weihnachten, itself. This day is spent with close family (other relatives usually come over on the Second Day of Christmas). On Christmas Eve children have written letters to either the Christkindl (Christ Child, a Protestant figure), a girl with wings, a crown and a white robe; or Weihnachtsmann, Santa Claus. Then on the morning of Christmas children can unwrap the presents that have been left under the tree by one of these figures. Some families hire college students or ask a relative to dress up as Christkindl or Santa. The kids then sing a song or read a poem for their guest. After the presents are unwrapped the family eats a traditional German dinner, which might include fish like carp or salmon, sausages and potato salad, goose or duck with potato dumplings and gravy.
Christmas is such a significant holiday to Germans that there is even a second Christmas Day, zweite Weihnachtstag, with more food and more family.
A notable part of Christmas in Germany are the many Christmas markets and fairs open every day from the last week of November to around Christmas Eve. These festive markets are full of handmade novelties and food, wonderfully lit with Christmas lights, and they attract more and more tourists every year.
The Christmas Tree
The Christmas tree is an important holiday tradition in countries all over the world, and is a tradition that originated in Germany. The fir tree has a long association with Christianity that began in Germany almost 1,000 years ago when St Boniface, who converted the German people to Christianity, was said to have come across a group of pagans worshiping an oak tree. In anger, St Boniface is said to have cut down the oak tree and to his amazement a young fir tree sprung up from the roots of the oak tree. St Boniface took this as a sign of the Christian faith. But it was not until the 16th century that fir trees were brought indoors at Christmas time. The Hessian soldiers brought the Christmas tree tradition to America during the Revolutionary War. The Christmas carol "O, Christmas Tree" is also of German origin. The best known version of "O, Tannenbaum" was written in 1824 by a composer named Ernst Anschutz. The melody is an old folk tune.