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Every culture has its own unique holiday traditions, and Germany’s have been influential in shaping Christmas customs worldwide. In fact, we would wager that you may even recognize a few, while others might seem altogether outlandish. Here’s how to celebrate Christmas in Deutschland.
No doubt, whether we’re talking about natives, expats, or tourists, anyone who is in Germany during Christmas Market season should visit one, as this is an excellent way to inject a solid dose of genuine Christmas cheer into the holiday hustle and bustle. There are countless markets located throughout Germany, with several typically going down in every major city. Probably some of the most popular are the ones occurring in Nuremberg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and Munich. Come here to enjoy a pleasant and cozy atmosphere where vendors sell their artisan wares and a myriad of tasty treats. The Weihnachtsmarkt experience is best enjoyed with friends, but because the mood is so good, it won’t be hard to make new ones there.
Historically, Germany is a pretty religious country. As is the case in many cultures, much of the Yuletide traditions have been secularized. Therefore, all you really need to know nowadays is that the ‘Adventskalender’ (Advent calendar) tracks the four weeks leading up to Christmas, where each day of the countdown is marked with a little prize hidden within the depths of the colorful 3D calendar. Typically, these calendars are quite cheap and come filled with small Christmas-themed chocolates, but they can also be quite extravagant with chocolate manufacturers like Godiva producing their own versions.
Okay, so this is a multifaceted suggestion. Let us take a moment to break it down. Germans have long engaged in the custom of incorporating an evergreen tree into the Christmas décor schemes of their living rooms. Known in Deutsch as a Tennenbaum, it is not uncommon, even today, for families and friends to gather around the tree and sing the eponymous hymn. Doing so is a fantastic way to conjure feelings of gemütlichkeit, a distinct German word that roughly translates to mean a state of coziness and good cheers, quite similar to the Danish term, hygge.
Christmas is typically viewed as a time of splendor and indulgence, and Germans do not exempt themselves from this trend. Traditional German foods are generally quite heavy, and Christmassy variations include apple stuffing, a bounty of the usual dumplings, a succulent roast, often a turkey, goose, or rabbit, along with desserts and drinks.
Glühwein, a kind of spiced mulled wine that is sold virtually everywhere during the holiday season, is probably the best known, but for those that like a bit more of a punch to their holiday beverages, feuerzangen bowle, comprised of warmed rum, wine, and spice, is another favorite. For dessert, stollen will undoubtedly give your preconceptions about fruitcakes a run for their money. Meanwhile, the heart shaped lebkuchen gingerbread cookies are common fixtures at Christmas markets and dining tables around the country.
While Santa Claus is obviously one of the most iconic Christmas figures, leave it to the Europeans to commemorate the depth and origins of old Kris Kringle. The customs observed on St. Nicholas Day is often regarded as the source of modern-day Christmas lore about Santa. Each year on December 5th, the eve of St. Nicholas Day, children leave their shoes outside of their bedroom doors in hopes that he will visit and leave the shoes filled with treats in his wake. Of course, only those children who were nice all year-round are lucky enough to have this fortune. Starting to sound familiar?
We all might be familiar with Santa, but leave it to the Germans to invent a stark and terrifying counterpart for punishing the naughty ones. Krampus, typically believed to have been derived from pagan lore, is a demonic anthropomorphic goat with a forked tongue who is known to run around beating and even eating children who did not behave. All of this has typically been omitted from common Christmas traditions, but in case you were wondering where the whole getting coal for being naughty thing comes from, Krampus is to thank. Today, in southern Germany, Krampuslaufe still go down, where grown men dress in terrifying renditions of the creature and parade through the town. For the fainter of heart, it is also typical to exchange greeting cards with his likeness on them, known as Krampuskarten.
For those looking to celebrate Christmas like the Germans, take note of timing. Most of the Christmas gathering, eating, and gift exchanging will take place on Christmas Eve, known as Heiliger Abend, or ‘holy evening.’ This is so much the case that just about all offices and businesses will close in the afternoon so that people can make final preparations and get to their Christmas shindigs on time. Christmas and the following day are public holidays, and the momentum of the Heiliger Abend festivities trickle over into the following two days.