As you probably know, Christmas in Germany is an important festival. Do you know about the German Christmas traditions? What can you expect in a German Christmas market? How does it work with the advent wreath? What kinds of advent calendars are there? Check out this post to get prepared for Christmas in Germany!
Moving to Germany or new in Germany? Check out our Resources Page for all the help you need!
Christmas in Germany: A family festival
Christmas in Germany is one of the biggest festivals. It is a family festival that everybody is driving home to spend time with their family members. In my hometown Hong Kong, Christmas is also a big festival. However, our celebration is completely different than in Germany. Christmas in Hong Kong is more like valentine’s day for couples. In Hong Kong, there are a lot of celebration activities outdoor during Christmas Eve.
My friend decided to spend Christmas in Germany on vacation. She expected to join celebration parties outdoor and was totally disappointed. There was nobody on the street! All the shops were closed. Everybody stayed at home to spend time with their families. So, it can be quite a lonely time if you are without your family during Christmas in Germany. It happened to me when I studied in Germany. However, I spent time with other foreign friends and we still had a good time at Christmas.
German Christmas traditions
If you are living with Germans, you will probably see some advent candles at home in December. This is the advent wreath with usually red candles. It is an advent celebration to prepare for Christmas. Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas day, which is also called the first Sunday of Advent. There are 4 candles on the advent wreath. You are supposed to light up one candle on the first Sunday of Advent, then light up two on the second Sunday of Advent, and so on. Until the fourth Sunday, all 4 candles are lighted up and you know that Christmas is coming.
St Nicholas Day
St Nicholas Day is one of the most important German Christmas traditions on 6th December. It is called Sankt Nikolaus Tag in German. In the evening on 5th December, kids will clean their shoes and put them outside their bedroom door. The next morning, they will find candies, nuts, fruits, or chocolate inside their shoes (if they are good kids).
On December 6th, you may see someone dressed like St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas looks pretty similar to Santa Claus. This is because the image of modern Santa Claus was originated from St. Nicholas. This explains the similarity in their appearance. Kids are usually very excited about St. Nicholas Day as St. Nicholas may visit their kindergartens. He may hold a book and read out something to each kid, which was pre-written by their parents or the staff from the kindergartens. If a kid is well-behaved, he will receive some small treats from St. Nicholas like sweets, nuts, or fruits.
Sometimes, Krampus Night (Krampus Nacht) will come together with St. Nicholas. He is a devil-looking man wearing a scary mask. Usually, he is invited by the parents of naughty kids to teach them a lesson.
One of the German Christmas traditions is to have the “Sternsinger” going from house to house in some regions. Star singers are Catholic kids who dress up as the three wise men (or the three kings). They go to Catholic homes and perform a blessing on the house by singing a song and drawing a sign with chalk at the door. They usually come sometime between the 27th December and 6th January, and people often give them some donations after the blessing. The sign will look like this for the year 2023: 20*C+M+B+23.
German Christmas markets
This is one of my favorite German Christmas traditions. During Christmas time, you will find Christmas markets everywhere in Germany, in both big and small cities. Christmas markets usually start in late November, although some already start earlier, depending on the cities. The most famous one is the Christmas market in Nuremberg. You can almost find everything in a Christmas market, either Christmas-related or not. For example, the traditional booths sell Christmas decorations and ornaments, while others sell toys, clothes, jewelry, and all sort of other things.
Besides, you will find traditional Christmas foods and drinks in every Christmas market. One of the best activities during Christmas in Germany is to enjoy a mulled wine with your friends in a Christmas market.
Christmas angels (Weihnachtsengel)
Christmas angels are one of the most popular Christmas decorations in Germany. These little wooden angels are using playing their musical instruments. You can hang them on your Christmas tree or around your house. You will find them everywhere in the Christmas markets in Germany, or you can also buy them online.
When I was a kid in Hong Kong, my parents put the Christmas presents next to our beds during our sleep on Christmas Eve. When we got up on the 25th, we were super excited to see the gifts from “Santa Claus”.
In Germany, this is done a bit differently. The Christmas presents will usually be put under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve while the kids are away. The kids will be super excited to see all the presents under the lighted tree when they are back. Especially in the southern and western parts of Germany, the belief is that the Christmas gifts are bought by the Christkind (the infant Jesus who looks like an angel).
It is also common to exchange Christmas presents between adults and this all happens on the night of Christmas Eve. Everybody will open their gifts on Christmas Eve and enjoy their evening together.
Christmas Eve (24th December) is called Heiligabend in German, which means holy evening in English. It is a regular working day. But most businesses will close early that day so that people can go home and prepare for the Christmas celebration. So, you need to go shopping early on that day. The shops are usually busy with people doing their last-minute shopping for food and gifts. Be sure as well that you understand the gift giving customs in Germany when you plan to give gifts.
People travel back home to celebrate Christmas with their family members. They decorate the Christmas tree, have dinner, exchange Christmas presents, and some may even sing Christmas songs together at home.
Even people who are not religious usually attend church service on Christmas Eve. Christmas is celebrated by almost everyone in Germany, no matter if they are Christian or not.
Traditional Christmas foods and drinks in Germany
Mulled wine, or Glühwein in German, is the best symbol for Christmas in Germany. It is a hot red sweet wine with cinnamon and other spices. There are different versions of it and you can modify it in many different ways. It tastes great, especially on a cold winter day. You can find it in any Christmas market. If you prefer to drink it at home, you can also buy it from the supermarket, or make it yourself (recipe here).
If you do not drink alcohol, there is also a non-alcoholic version of mulled wine called Kinderpunsch. It is usually hot fruit juice with tea, cinnamon, and other spices. It is popular for kids or adults who do not drink alcohol.
Lebkuchen is gingerbread which usually includes honey, nuts, and other spices. You will find them in the Christmas markets, as well as in the supermarkets. If you go to a traditional gingerbread shop, you will also find very nice gingerbread tins (Lebkuchendose) with gingerbread inside. The gingerbread tins are nicely decorated with traditional Christmas pictures. Every Christmas, I send a different gingerbread tin (with gingerbread inside) to my family back in Hong Kong. I think they are perfect gifts with German Christmas traditions.
Sweet roasted almond
You will also find some amazing roasted almonds in the Christmas markets. The almonds are roasted with sugar and other spices. They are the perfect snacks to share with friends when walking through the Christmas markets.
Stollen is a sweet bread made of flour, fruit, spices, and nuts. Sometimes, zest is also added to the dough. You can find stollen with ingredients like orange peel, lemon peel, almond, cinnamon, etc. Stollen is coated with powdered sugar or icing sugar. It is traditional German bread eaten during Christmas. That’s why it is also called Weihnachtsstollen, which means Christmas stollen in English.
German people start eating Christmas cookies during advent time. You can buy Christmas cookies in supermarkets. However, most people bake the cookies themselves. You can bake your Christmas cookies and put them into a nice container. Bring the cookies with you and enjoy them together with your family and friends when you visit them.
To my surprise, even though Christmas Eve is the most important evening, many German families eat a simple dinner with potato salad and sausages that night.
On Christmas days (25th and 26th), many German families will have their family feast with a whole goose, duck, or rabbit, served with potato dumplings and red cabbage.
Fire Tongs Punch (Feuerzangenbowle)
This is a traditional drink with hot mulled wine and rum with strong alcohol. To prepare for this drink, a sugar cone that is soaked in rum is burnt in flames and the melted sugar-rum mixture is then dropping down to the mulled wine in the pot. You can make this using a Feuerzangenbowle set, which includes the sugar cone and the specialized bowl.
This drink became very popular among Germans due to the movie “Die Feuerzangenbowle” in 1944. This is a funny story about a middle-aged man who did some hilarious things after drinking the Feuerzangenbowle.
To celebrate Christmas like a German, you can invite some friends, make some Feuerzangenbowle at home, and watch the iconic movie together. It is also common to drink Feuerzangenbowle to celebrate New Year in Germany.
A lot of families in Germany put up a Christmas tree in their living room during Christmas. Most of them buy a real tree and decorate it by themselves, although it is also possible to buy an artificial one. They usually buy the trees just a little bit before Christmas Eve. During the day on Christmas Eve, they start decorating the tree so that they can light it up in the evening.
The Christmas tree is usually decorated with real candles and different ornaments like baubles and tinsel. A star or angel is usually put on top of the Christmas tree.
Most people leave their Christmas tree in the living room until New Year or on 6th January.
Advent calendar or Christmas calendar is a calendar with 24 small windows. You are supposed to open one window every day starting on 1st December. Usually, you will receive a small treat from each window. This is one of the most common German Christmas traditions. The advent calendar can also serve as a Christmas decoration at home or in the office. Traditionally, there is chocolate inside each window of the calendar. However, you can almost find any kind of advent calendars in the market nowadays.
Different kinds of advent calendars 2023
In the past, I thought that advent calendars are always with chocolate. I was shocked to see that almost anything can be in an advent calendar nowadays! I am going to show you some different kinds of advent calendars below.
Traditional advent calendars
This is a traditional wooden advent calendar with chocolate inside each window. It is a great Christmas decoration as well with LED lighting, which brings a special Christmas feeling to your home.
This is a less fancy version of a traditional chocolate advent calendar. It is also a very common type of advent calendar in Germany. A perfect gift for colleagues, friends, and kids.
Advent Calendars for your partner
I have to admit that I was pretty shocked to know that such an advent calendar exists! This can be a perfect gift if you want to surprise your partner and have some fun together at the same time.
If an erotic advent calendar is too much for you, you may like this one. This advent calendar gives you the chance to write 24 love letters to your partner. You can show your love with this romantic advent calendar.
Advent calendars with food or drink
Advent calendar with tea, spices, or breakfast
This advent calendar includes 24 boxes of different organic teabags. It is a perfect calendar for tea lovers.
On the other hand, if you love to cook, you will find this advent calendar with spices very cool. There are different spices in each window. A recipe is also included for each spice, which gives you ideas about what you can cook with the spices.
Do you know you can even have food in an advent calendar? You can get something for your breakfast from this advent calendar every morning. There are 24 different surprises including jam, snacks, honey, coffee, tea, etc.
Advent calendars with alcohol
Advent calendar with beers or wines
German people love beers. This advent calendar with beers includes 24 different local and international beers. If you do not prefer beers, you can also find an advent calendar with wines from different parts of the world.
Advent calendars for women
Advent calendar with beauty products or jewelry
For women who love beauty, this advent calendar with beauty products includes 24 different products like masks, cream, make-up, and so on.
Alternatively, you can also find an advent calendar with jewelry. As a woman myself, I never get tired of jewelry. The advent calendar includes 24 different pieces of jewelry in each window for women to have a nice surprise.
Advent calendars for kids
Advent calendar with LEGO or Barbie
Kids love advent calendars for an obvious reason. This LEGO advent calendar includes a LEGO part in each window.
For girls, this Barbie advent calendar includes a Barbie and each window provides an accessory for her.
Advent calendars for pets
Advent calendars for dogs and cats
I was quite surprised that pets also get their advent calendars! This calendar includes a treat for your dog in each window. And for sure, there are also advent calendars for cats! Bring the Christmas joy also to your pets!
DIY advent calendars
You can decide what you want to give to your loved one with a DIY advent calendar. You also do not necessarily need to give a physical gift. For example, my friends have small kids at home. In the advent calendar for their kids, they put different activities in each window. Every day after dinner, the kids can open one window and find an activity that they can do together with their parents. It can be something small like singing a song together, dancing together, playing a small game together, etc.
make your own Advent calendar
If you are a creative person and prefer to make your own advent calendar, this advent calendar with empty bags will be something for you. You can decide what to put in these 24 small bags for your loved one.
Similarly, this advent calendar with Santa Claus figure also allows you to decide on your 24 small treats. This is also a nice Christmas decoration at the same time.
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Are you surprised by any of the German Christmas traditions? What kind of advent calendar do you love most? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think!
Moving to Germany or new in Germany? Check out our Resources Page for all the help you need!