12 Christmas Traditions You Didn't Realise Were Stolen from Germany

Christmas Market
Christmas Market | © Eremeev/WikiCommons
Alice Dundon

Germany comes to life during the festive season. Its Christmas markets, alcoholic punch and festive joy are known the world over. Their traditions have a deep and long-standing history, so much so that they have been adopted all over the world. Here are the Christmas traditions you didn’t realise were stolen from Germany.

The Christmas tree

The tradition of decorating the Christmas trees, or Tannenbaum, dates back to the 16th century. While Estonia and Latvia had similar traditions in the 15th century, it was Germany who started the Christmas tree decorating tradition.

Christmas Tree in town square

Santa Claus’s image

The Nutcracker

The origins of The Nutcracker date back to German folklore. Legend has it that a wealthy German farmer became fed up with the ineffective process of cracking nuts. So, to find a solution he offered a large reward to whoever could find a better method in a nearby village. A carpenter proposed sawing the nuts open and a soldier shot at the nut, however it was an unlikely puppet maker who found the best solution. Building a strong-jawed, lever-mouthed doll to crack the nuts, now known as a nutcracker.


‘Silent Night’

‘Silent Night’, or ‘Stille Nacht‘, was composed in Austria in 1818 by pastor Joseph Mohr and his friend Franz Gruber. The pastor went to visit his friend on Christmas Eve, in desperate need of a new carol for that evening’s mass. Mohr walked to the next town over to visit Gruber, a teacher who also served as church choirmaster and organist, in the hopes that he would be able to write some music for a poem the pastor had proposed. Sure enough, the pair wrote the original version of ‘Silent Night’.

Gingerbread house

The term ‘gingerbread house’ was first noted in the Grimm’s fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel, and the tradition of making gingerbread houses – with sugar-based decorations on them – began in Germany after the book was published. Bakers began making the structures, and the recreation of the fictional house became popular during Christmastime.

Gingerbread Houses

Advent calendar

In the 19th century, the original Advent calendar served as a way for German Lutherans to count down the days until Christmas. Eventually, lighting candles became popular and in the early 20th century, Gerhard Lang, a German botanist, was credited with printing the first Advent calendar. He decided to add little doors that would open to reveal the date or a scripture. It wasn’t until much later that they began to be filled with chocolates.

Advent wreath

Many German families put an Advent wreath on the living room table on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. This tradition has been widely adopted and interpreted across the world, however, its original concept dates back to the German Lutherans, who popularised the wreath in the 16th century.

Advent Wreath

Kris Kringle

Kris Kringle is likely to be a mispronunciation of Christkindl, referring to the ‘Christ child’ who would bring gifts on December 24, rather than Santa Claus. The word has now been adopted across the world to take on different meanings.

Christmas markets

Christmas Markets or Weihnachtsmarkt are a series of stalls that pop up from mid-November onward in almost any German city, regardless of size. Selling handcrafted gifts, Christmas treats, bratwurst and mulled wine, known as Gluhwein, they’re a beloved tradition. Its origins date back to the late Middle Ages, and they are now held in some form throughout Europe and in parts of North America.

Christmas Market

The Christmas stocking

December 6 is Nikolaustag, or St. Claus Day. Young children leave a shoe or boot outside their doors the night before, hoping to wake and find a shoe filled with presents. If they were good during the year they’d get gifts in abundance, but not, they would receive a rod in their shoe. This tradition has been adapted and adopted, now, into the Christmas stocking.

Glass ornaments

In the late 16th century, Lauscha, a small German town in the state of Thuringia became famous for glass blowing. The town set up glass works and produced some of the finest glassware in Europe. It wasn’t until 1847 when Hans Greiner, a descendant of the man who established the first glassworks in the town, began producing glass ornaments that would later become associated with Christmas. Greiner used a unique hand-blown process that was later carried on by his sons and grandsons until these ornaments became so popular that they were exported to other parts of Europe. In the 1880s, the American dime-store mogul, F.W. Woolworth, discovered the glass decorations during a visit to Germany and made a fortune by importing them to the US.

Hand-blown Christmas Ornament

Decorating trees with tinsel

It is thought that tinsel, or das Lametta, was invented in Germany in the early 1600s, and was originally made out of real silver. In the 1920 and 30s, this shiny invention became a popular tree decoration in Germany and beyond, with German icicle tinsel and tinfoil becoming commonly used.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article