Weihnachten (Christmas) in Germany is a major cultural and religious time, with many traditions that spread around the world. The time of the year is still firmly rooted in old traditions, not as consumer-oriented as it is in America.
The Christmas season begins with the first Sunday of Advent. During Advent, Christmas cookies (Plätzchen), Stollen, and gingerbread houses are often prepared. Nutcracker figures are displayed and homes and streets begin to be decorated with Christmas lights.
The Advent wreath (Adventskranz) is a common tradition with deep religious meanings. We wrote a full description of this tradition in our Advent post.
A beautiful occurrence in the small towns throughout Germany are the Christmas markets that pop up, which are called: Weihnachtsmärkte. The communal awakening is magical, with lit up shops open late, brass bands, and of course, Glühwein, a hot mulled wine that people enjoy together in the open markets. Common treats sold in these open markets include: gingerbread hearts, sugar-roasted almonds, crepes, cookies, stollen, and cotton candy. These open markets date back to the 14th century, and until the last century were the only places where families could buy all of the items needed for Christmas celebrations.
St. Nicholas Day
The Christmas Tree (Tannenbaum) is one of the most recognizable all of Christmas traditions around the world. The tree is normally put up and decorated on Christmas Eve, but some families will put it up during the Advent season. Germans will normally use a fir or spruce. The decorations are familiar with tinsel, glass ornaments and sweets, decorated with a star or angel.
Christmas Eve (Heiliger Abend or Heiligabend)
At around 2pm or earlier, businesses close for the holiday to come. Families gather together for a traditional meal that can vary from region to region, stories read aloud, and gifts are exchanged. A midnight Mass is still very popular with both the Catholic and Protestant Churches.
Christmas Day (der erste und zweite Weihnachtstag)
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are both national holidays with businesses closed. It is a very family oriented holiday. Christmas Day includes a large family meal that can be Goose, rabbit, or traditional roasts. Christmas Day is a more peaceful and relaxing day than Christmas Eve.
List of Traditional German Christmas Foods
- Dresdner Stollen or Christstollen (fruitcake)
- Glühwein – Hot mulled wine
- Lebkuchen – German-style gingerbread
- Plätzchen (various cookies)
- Weihnachtsplätzchen (specific Christmas cookies)
- Pfefferkuchenhaus (gingerbread house)
- Karpfen – Carp
- Gänsebraten – Roast Goose
- Herring Salad
- Kartoffelsalat (potato salad) with Wurst (sausages)
- Schäufele (a corned, smoked ham)
- Weisswurst (white sausage)
- Feuerzangenbowle (alcoholic drink)
- Eierlikör – egg liqueur
- Grünkohl – kale
- Spekulatius – spicy shortbread
- Baumkuchen – tree cake
- Marzipankartoffeln – marzipan potatoes