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Christmas Customs in Germany

Updated on October 19, 2016
Christmas Tree
Christmas Tree | Source

When I was a little girl, we celebrated a memorable German Christmas at my Grandma and Grandpa's house every year. They were the second generation that immigrated from Germany to live in America, so they brought many of the customs and celebrations with them.

Like all children, we were excited this time of year and their house was a special place. Filled with good smells and mystery, we couldn't help being eager to go. Our favorite part though was the love our Grandparents showed.

Most of the Christmas traditions we celebrate in the US have their roots from Germany.These include the Christmas tree, Advent Season, the Nativity set, using candles and even the Christmas carol "Silent Night." In Germany the season is called Weihnachten.


Advent Calendar
Advent Calendar | Source

Advent

In Germany the Christmas season begins with the first day of Advent. The family has an advent calendar and a window is opened for each day of the season. Advent usually covers 4 Sundays, so it can begin anywhere from the end of November to December 3rd. It is a time of preparation for the coming of the Christ child on Christmas.

"Stolen" a traditional Christmas treat is baked during this time and so are Christmas cookies and candies. The Advent season is over on December 24th and then the Christmas season begins.

Christmas Markets

In the evenings in that country, the little towns are lit with lights. All sorts of good foods are available to purchase. These include cotton candy, cookies, and all sorts of baked goods. A band often plays and beer can be purchased.

I've never been able to attend a Christmas market, but it sounds like the festivals we have in small towns here in the US. Of course we don't celebrate with beer. The markets sound like great fun.

St Nick
St Nick | Source

Santa Claus

Yes, they have a Santa Claus in Germany too, but he is known by a different name then we use. One of them is Father Christmas and another is Saint Nicholas. Some areas don't celebrate Santa at all, but celebrate Saint Nicholas Day only.

My parents celebrated the American Santa at home. We received clothing we needed, a book and some years something big that we shared.

Other Traditions

Gingerbread houses are put out along with wood carved nutcrackers. Little lighted houses are placed in the home along with the Nativity set. Not all homes have all of these decorations. For instance we never had the nutcrackers or the little lighted houses, but always had the Nativity set.

Grandma always placed the same fake snow under the set every year. Placing the same pine cones near Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus was an important part of the tradition. The shepherds and sheep were placed near the creche, but the wise men were placed far off since they didn't arrive until later. An angel was placed at the top.

Some families have an evergreen wreath with 4 candles around it. The candles are burned on each Sunday before Christmas. This was a tradition that I can't remember doing except one year, we sang Christmas carols while the candle was lit.

It was a special year when we were able to help her. Grandma and Grandpa had almost 50 grandchildren, so if you were chosen, it was a treat.

Christmas Tree Bulbs
Christmas Tree Bulbs | Source

Saint Nicholas Day

One of the early events of Christmas is St Nicks Day, celebrated on December 6th. We kids would put out a Christmas stocking in the morning and then leave for school. Most families probably do it at night, but we did it in the morning, so we wouldn't eat candy before we left for school. We might get a little chocolate Santa, an orange or tangerine, sometimes hard candy that we didn't care for.

It wasn't the big event like we celebrated at Christmas. In Germany they often put out their shoe or boot. The claim is that St. Nick keeps a book filled with all of the deeds of the child. If they committed too many sins that year their boot would be filled with sticks or coal instead of treats. This even it also observed in many other European countries.

St Thomas Day

On December 21, St Thomas Day is observed which is the shortest day of the year. If you are late for work that day you are called “Thomas Donkey”. They are given a cardboard donkey that they carry with them all day. The day ends with a treat called “Thomasplizchen”.

Because my Grandpa was a farmer and worked for himself, we never saw this day celebrated, I'm sure it is still part of the Christmas season and sounds like great fun. The day would be one that you would never want to be late for work!

German Christmas Traditions

The Christmas Tree

Early on Christmas Eve the Christmas tree is brought out. The idea of using a pine tree started in Germany. There are two stories that go along with the tree. One says that St Boniface started the tradition in the 16th century when he saw pagans worshipping their god around a tree. This made him so angry that he used his fist and pounded down the tree and in its place sprung up a small evergreen tree. St Boniface saw this as a sign and from that day Christmas was celebrated with a Christmas tree.

The other story tells that Martin Luther was out one night and noticed the beautiful stars shining through the limbs of a pine tree and then put a tree in his own home. Back then they used candles to make the tree shine.

The Mother of the house usually decorates the tree and no children are allowed to see it until Christmas Eve evening. She usually places apples, nuts, lights, tiny toys and family treasures on the tree. The Christmas gifts are then placed under the tree. Later in the evening the children are told they can see the tree and the family opens the presents.

German Christmas Food

Christmas Gifts

In Germany, they don't go as overboard on gifts as we do here in the US. My Mother likes to tell about the mittens she received, an orange and pajamas and that was Christmas for them. In Germany to this day, gifts aren't the focus of Christmas. It is more of a time to celebrate the birth of the Christ child and a time for family. It would be good if we could return to that time.

I can remember receiving a dollar bill from my Grandparents each year. Remember that they had almost 50 grandchildren and in the 50's that was a lot of money. We were thrilled to get the money. We could still buy a candy bar for a nickle and a small coke for the same amount, so the dollar went a long way.


Christmas Eve Midnight Mass

The Christmas celebrations weren't complete without attending Midnight Mass. This was awe inspiring to a child. The church was dark except for the manger with Mary and Joseph and the baby. The shepherds were standing outside along with their sheep. Of course the angel was fastened to the top announcing the birth of the Christ child.

All of these figures were life size. I don't think I celebrated a Christmas as a child without attending this service. It was an important part of Christmas.

Christmas Day

Christmas day meant a large meal. The aunts, uncles and all 50 of the cousins arrived. Years later, I wonder how Grandma liked cleaning up after all of us. The meal was similar to what we have in the US for Christmas dinner. Special candies and cookies were made. We kids all enjoyed that.


The Three Wise Men

The nativity set is left out until January 6th. On this day they celebrate the 3 wise men coming to give gifts to Jesus. Many people think that this happened on Christmas Day, but it was after Jesus' birth.

I can still remember my Mother carefully putting the set away after that day. Each piece was lovingly wrapped and placed in a box. The nativity set was more important than the tree.

Silent Night in German

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    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      10 months ago from USA

      Putting money behind the windows is a good tradition. I never thought of that one.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      10 months ago from sunny Florida

      It is always interesting for me to revisit these customs and traditions at Christmas time.. I have an advent house that I use each year...I tuck little bits of money behind each door and on Christmas day share with my grandsons. My eldest now gives his money to my baby grandson. Angels are on the way...Merry Christmas. ps

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      2 years ago from USA

      Carola, We used the stocking. That was probably easier for Mom. Thanks for commenting.

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      2 years ago from USA

      rebeccamealey, The Advent calendar is a good way to let the kids know that there is more to Christmas than Santa. Thanks for commenting.

    • Carola Finch profile image

      Carola Finch 

      2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I grew up with many of these traditions as a child of German immigrants. I remember finding a plastic boot full of goodies under my bed on Dec. 6 and opening presents on Christmas Eve. Was nice to stroll down memory lane.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Nice hub! Christmas customs in other countries are interesting to learn about. I made my granddaughters an advent calendar this year. They loved it. Now they want one every year.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      2 years ago from Texas

      Barbara, I have left 3 messages on this story, which I do love but have not seen it, maybe they went to your spam folder.

      Blessings and Hugs my friend.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      2 years ago from Texas

      Barbara, thank you for sharing your family's wonderful traditions with us.

      Blessings and hugs and Merry Christmas.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      2 years ago from Texas

      Barbara, it is lovely to have such a wonderful tradition. We did pretty much the same kind of things, with all the family sharing in the preparation and the clean-up afterwards.

      Very heartwarming, thank you for sharing it with us.

      Blessings and hugs

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      2 years ago from USA

      Nell, Thanks for reading. Enjoy your celebrations this year.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      2 years ago from England

      Sounds absolutely lovely! we used to have big family Christmases, but then not so much, but we are back to trees and all the trimmings again now my son has a wonderful girlfriend who loves doing this sort of thing! what great traditions!

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      3 years ago from USA

      Thelma, If you can believe, I have never actually made a gingerbread house. I celebrate most of the other customs though. Thanks for reading.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      3 years ago from Germany

      I can relate to what you have written here. I have spent a lot of German Christmasses in my life being a wife of a German. I love the German Christmas especially the making of Gingerbread houses.

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      3 years ago from USA

      peachpurple, Thanks for commenting.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 

      3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i love reading foreign counties christmas, very unique

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      3 years ago from USA

      aviannovice, Yes, they are good memories. Thanks for letting me share them with you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This truly sounds like lovely memories. Thanks for sharing them.

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      3 years ago from USA

      aesta1, Thanks for reading. The midnight service was always special.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you for sharing your tradition here. I also wish to go back to observing Advent with a wreath and 4 candles, having a creche, midnight Mass, and a more simple gift -giving.

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      3 years ago from USA

      tirelesstraveler, Thanks for reading. We as kids only had an advent calendar a couple of years, but the church always celebrated it. It is a good way to count down the days until Christmas and a good tradition to start.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 

      3 years ago from California

      Getting myself into the Christmas spirit. Thanks for helping. I think at 3 H.J. is old enough for an advent calendar. My religious upbringing didn't include Advent, but have adopted it as an adult:)

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      3 years ago from USA

      Lady Guinevere, Thanks for reading. We do have many rich traditions brought over from other countries.

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 

      3 years ago from West By God

      Learn something new everyday here on HubPages. I did not know about the St. Thomas. Isn't it great that we live in the USA and share many cultural Christmas traditions. The USA was known as the Melting Pot of the world.

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      3 years ago from USA

      teaches12345, Thanks for reading.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      3 years ago

      What lovely traditions! Thanks for sharing such a treasured part of your Christmas experience in Germany.

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      3 years ago from USA

      MelRootNWrites, All of the childhood traditions are so important. Thanks for commenting.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image

      Melody Lassalle 

      3 years ago from California

      I really enjoyed reading about these customs. I knew of a couple of these like the Christmas tree coming from Germany and St. Nicholas Day. Others were new to me.

      We didn't have any old world customs despite the fact that my grandfather was an immigrant from France. But we have our own from childhood that we still do today.

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      3 years ago from USA

      billybuc, Thanks for commenting. It sounds like the markets are a crazy celebration with the German beer. I liked the idea of St Thomas Day.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Interesting as always. One day I would love to spend the holidays in a country like Germany and experience those rich traditions.

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      3 years ago from USA

      agusfanani, Many people here also don't celebrate it in this way, but many do. Thanks for commenting.

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      3 years ago from USA

      Kathleen, Thanks for commenting. We put stockings out which was cheating. The tradition was continued until my kids grew up and then we quit.

    • agusfanani profile image

      agusfanani 

      3 years ago from Indonesia

      It is interesting to know how people celebrate Christmas in varied ways. Christmas is also celebrated by Christians peacefully in my country although we are Muslim in majority.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 

      3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      We spent three Christmases in Germany when my husband was in the US Army. That was more than 30 years ago. To this day we put wooden shoes out on St. Nicholas Eve and keep an Advent Calendar. These are precious family traditions now and part of our history.

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      3 years ago from USA

      heidithome, Thanks for reading and sharing. I'm happy you found it interesting.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Indeed, traditions we accept as standard had to come from somewhere. Germany, and Europe and the UK in general, have originated many of the traditions and images we're so familiar with now. Voted up, beautiful, interesting and sharing!

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