Christmas in Germany: Picture Perfect
The Christmas Tree
Christmas in Germany is absolutely magical. It should be, after all, our idea of the perfect Christmas was was invented here. Its true, just think about it. Christmas trees - check! As far back as the 16th century Christians living in what is now Germany used to bring evergreen trees into their home to signify life during the long, dark winter. Its said that one day Martin Luther was so inspired by the beauty of the stars twinkling through the forest that he came home and after failing to impress his family with the beauty of his vision he began putting small lit candles in his own tree to show them what he meant. It must have been quite a site because in spite of the danger, before long others started to copy Martin Luther's invention.
Though a decorated tree is an absolute Christmas must, it was at first frowned on in America as a pagan activity. In fact it wasn't until the late 18 century when it finally began to pick up popularity in the States. Though we weren't the first English Speaking country to be enchanted by the tradition. The Christmas Tree was introduced to England by Queen Victoria's husband Albert and his family who were German where it was soon adopted by the rest of the country.
How about Santa Claus? Check!
Good ol' Martin Luther is also said to have invented Santa Klaus though he called him Christkindl which literally translates to Little Christ Child. When German immigrants began settling in America, they brought all of their traditions with them. Christkindl first became Chris Kringle then Santa Claus.
Though for Germans, St. Nikolas is the one who comes in the night (on December 6th) to either bring presents to good little children or to leave the bad ones coal. The tradition holds that children (young and old alike) are to set out their shoes before they go to bed. Of course, the shoes should be polished and looking spiffy! Then St. Nick fills the shoes with mandarin oranges, nuts, chocolates and other small gifts. Though this still goes on, its much more likely that the old shoes have been traded in for a Christmas stocking - much like the ones we hang on the mantle at Christmas time. And while nuts, fruit and sweets still play a large role so do gift certificates from Amazon, iTunes and favorite clothing stores.
Advents Calendar and Wreath
The Advent's Calendar is yet another German tradition. Children absolutely adore this one! Its basically a special calendar used to count the days (starting with the first advent) until Christmas. Often the calendar with be decorated with 24 little doors or boxes, each one meant to be opened on their corresponding day until finally the last one is opened on Christmas. This builds up incredible anticipation. I can tell you from experience that my son could hardly wait till after breakfast to open his "advent's present of the day." The boxes can be filled with anything from a single chocolate on up to well, your imagination is the only limit!
The Advent's Wreath is... you guessed it! Another German invention. It consists of four candles which are nestled onto an evergreen wreath usually also decorated with glass ornaments. The first candle is lit on a Sunday evening exactly four weeks before December 25. Then, on every following Sunday eve another candle is lit until by the last Sunday before Christmas all four candles are lit.
Christmas Markets in Germany
No Christmas in Germany would be complete with out a visit to a Christmas market. The most famous one is in Nuremberg but every city and town has their own version. The markets are filled with stalls selling all sort of things from presents, to tree ornaments, to hot roasted chestnuts and mulled wine.
There's nothing like standing outside while snowflakes whirl around you, stamping your feet and drinking mulled wine with friends. We live in Munich and my favorite market here is actually not the most traditional but Muenchener Freiheit which is a very "artsy" market. There are always live bands and the stalls are filled with all sorts of beautiful hand made treasures.
On Christmas eve some kind of sausage and potato salad is typical - I kid you not! I'm not sure how this tradition evolved but my guess is it was to give the mother a break from have to prepare a fancy meal on the same day that she had to wrap presents, decorate a tree, go to church and keep curious little children from peeking at name tags.
The more traditional meal of roast goose, usually served with red kraut and potato dumplings is served on Christmas day.
Article by Anne Alexander Sieder