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German Christmas Traditions

Updated on July 18, 2011

Christmas has grown around the world to become the most celebrated holiday of the year. What's not to like about it - the presents, the time off, the relaxation, the drinks, the food. Christmas is a time of year that is full of unique celebrations, some different from each other, some the same.

Many North American Christmas traditions stem from German Christmas customs. Christmas traditions in Germany have begun to migrate west in America and Canada; the Advent Christmas calender, for example, which is very popular in the West first originated in Germany. Even the famous Christmas song 'Silent Night' was composed in Germany (well Austria, but they were the same at the time).

Although some German Christmas traditions have yet to make their mark in North America, you can see the residue of German holidays and traditions all over Europe and the World. Boxing day, which is still not a holiday in America, is a national holiday in Germany and many other countries - making Christmas a two day holiday.

As for the German Christmas pickle tradition, German Christmas food traditions and German Christmas eve traditions - well, you'll have to read on.

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In Berlin, Christmas is one of the most celebrated time of year.
In Berlin, Christmas is one of the most celebrated time of year. | Source

The Feast of Epiphany

The Feast of Epiphany is one of the German Christmas traditions that mostly only occurs in Germany.  It's for the remembering of the Three Wise Men, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.  On January 6th it is encouraged to write the initials of the three kings in the night before the feast. 

Christmas in Germany - A Month Long Celebration

Christmas traditions in Germany span the entire month of December; it's a time of reflectiveness, time spent indoor, of recharging. It's almost the opposite of how Christmas is celebrate in North America - chaos in the malls, scrounging to get Christmas money, late night excursions to find Christmas tree. One of the Christmas traditions in Germany is to just relax and spend time with the family.

There are some important dates in Germany's Christmas season that are very important traditions. They are:

  • December 6th - St.Nicholas Feast Day
  • December 24th - Christmas Eve
  • December 25th - Christmas Day
  • December 26th - St. Stephen's Day
  • January 6th - The Feast of Epiphany
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Have you ever put your boot on a window sill?

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Sometimes the best Christmas gift is some German chocolate in your boot.
Sometimes the best Christmas gift is some German chocolate in your boot. | Source

St.Nicholas Day - A Special Christmas Tradition in Germany

One of my favorite Germany traditions is St. Nicholas Day, which occurs on the night of December 5th. 

The tradition is as follows:

The night before December 6th, children are to put out their boots - or shoes if they don't have an German boots - on a window sill.  If the kids have been good then they will receive chocolate or a cool little gift; and if they've been bad then they'll receive a switch. 

This German Christmas tradition hasn't fully made it's way around the world like Boxing day has, but it still is practiced worldwide.  I remember as kid growing up being excited for that first week in December when I got to put out my favorite shoe - no matter how tattered it was - on the window.  Although the presents received were never very extravagant - which I think is a good thing - it put everyone in a happy, Christmas mood and set the tone for the rest of the month. 

As far as Germany holidays and tradition go this is one of my all time favorite. 

German Christmas Pickle Tradition

This is one the most fun Christmas traditions in Germany. A glass pickle ornament is hidden on the Christmas tree and on either Christmas eve, or Christmas day, the child to first find the ornament will have good luck for all of next year.

The myth is that this tradition came from Germany - and many still think so - but the origin still remains unknown. One of the best ideas of it's origins involves a prisoner of war. The story goes is that a prisoner of war was about to die due to starvation and - in one last ditch effort - ask the guard he could have a pickle.

The guard took pity on him and gave him a pickle; this supposedly gave him renewed strength and allowed him to survive the rest of his imprisonment. When he got out, in respect to what saved him, he created the tradition of hiding a pickle that would give luck.

Christmas eve traditions are just as important as Christmas day.
Christmas eve traditions are just as important as Christmas day. | Source

German Christmas Eve Tradition

The next big event on the German Christmas calender is Christmas eve.  In most parts of the world Christmas Eve isn't a very celebrated day - most people still have to attend work, go shopping, ect - but in Germany it's almost as an important day as Christmas day. 

The German Christmas is very much dependent on Christmas Eve.  I remember as a child being just as excited for Christmas eve as I was for Christmas day.  The day itself was full of family events - maybe even a little Christmas tree shopping if we were late that year - and even a few presents.  Add on a huge Christmas eve dinner and you have one mighty day. 

One Christmas German tradition is opening some presents on Christmas eve.  It used to be that all presents were opened on Christmas eve - other than the ones that would come from Santa the following day.  Some family have morphed this tradition to their own liking, allowing presents from one side of the family to be opened on Christmas eve and the rest on Christmas day.  As far as Christmas in Germany goes this tradition is probably the one that has lasted the easiest - who wouldn't want to open some presents a day early. 

Another important German Christmas eve tradition - you could even call it a custom - is the lighting of candles on the Christmas tree.  It's a straight forward process and usually occurs before opening any presents; candles are mounted on branches alone the tree and one by one lit up.  They then remain lit for a few minutes - with some nice music in the background, a nice family moment - before they are carefully put out. 

I like the think of a German Christmas eve has a trifecta of sorts.  You have presents to open, candles to lights, and great food to eat.  There are many traditional German Christmas recipes that are specifically for Christmas eve; all of them taste fantastic. 

German Christmas Food Traditions

  • Lebkuchen - Gingerbread
  • Christstollen - Long loaves of bread that are stuffed with fruit and nuts
  • Stollen - Same as above.
  • Marzipankartoffeln - Marzipan
  • Gluhwein - Mulled wine
  • Kinderpunsch - Tea, apple juice and honey
  • Roasted Goose - Had on Christmas Eve and Day.
  • Potato Dumplings - Traditional Christmas Desert.

Christmas in Germany

Christmas day itself, as far as German traditions go, is fairly straight forward. The children wake up, open their presents from Santa and then enjoy them with the family. Some family will attend Church and then come home and prepare the big Christmas day dinner. It's a very family oriented day: quiet and peaceful.

The following twelve days, up until January 6th, are much more eventful. People will beat drums on some days, dress up on others, sing carols, and light candles; then on January 6th, the day of Epiphany, everyone will celebrate the three Wise Kings. Some people will dress up as them, while some will write their initials out of respect.

The German Christmas tradition is a very spread out affair, making it one of the greatest German traditions. From the first of December to the 6th of January there is a spirit of Christmas in the air. My point? If you ever want to leave the chaos and pressure that Christmas can sometimes be in North America then travel to Germany and spend a month there - you'll be beating drums

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