Last year I visited Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany and was amazed at the cleanliness of the city (especially during a drinking festival) and the friendliness of the residents. I became curious about the German way of life, and discussed the Christmas season with several Munichians!
Here are a few German traditions during Christmas time!
Advent. There are several kinds of Advent calendars, made of everything from cardstock to fir tree branches. The idea of an Advent calendar is that each day has a little present or surprise inside. Another type is called a ‘Advent Kranz’ and is a ring of fir branches that has four candles on it. One candle is lit at the beginning of each week in Advent.
Christmas trees have been used in Germany since the Middle Ages. While Americans generally decorate the tree together, German mothers of young children secretly decorate their tree to surprise the children. The Christmas tree is traditionally brought inside on Christmas Eve, when families normally exchange presents.
In German Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Frohe Weihnachten‘.
Germany, especially the Bavarian countryside, is well known for its Christmas Markets where all sorts of Christmas foods and decorations are sold. Hand-blown glass ornaments are popular choices.
You may have heard of the Christmas Pickle. Woolworth stores began selling glass ornaments from Germany in the shapes of fruits and vegetables in the 1880s. It was claimed that the Christmas Pickle was an old German tradition where the pickle was the last ornament hung on the tree and the first child to find the pickle got an extra present. This story is actually a myth, perhaps developed by a glass ornament company.
Children in Germany write to the ‘Christkind/Christkindl’ (‘The Christ Child’ in English) asking for presents. Children leave the letters on the window sill during Advent. The Christkind is often described as a young girl with ‘Christ like’ qualities.
Santa Claus or Father Christmas (der Weihnachtsmann) brings the presents on December 24th. December 6th is St. Nicholas’ Day and “der Nikolaus” brings some small gifts, such as sweets and chocolate, to the children. He comes in the night between the 5th and the 6th and puts the presents into the shoes of the children, who usually place them by their doors on the previous evening.
In some regions of Germany, there is a character called “Knecht Ruprecht” or “Krampus” who accompanies Nikolaus (St. Nicholas) on the 6th of December. He is big horned monster clothed in rags and carries a birch. He will punish the children who were bad and will give them a birch as a present. He is usually the one who scares the little children. In other parts of Germany, St. Nicholas is followed by a small person called “Schwarzer Peter” (Black Peter) who carries a small whip. Black Peter also accompanies St. Nicholas or Sinterklaas in Holland.
Some people say that Santa/Father Christmas (Weihnachtsmann) brings the presents and some say it is Christkind!
At small work places and school parties, secret presents are often exchanged. A door is opened just wide enough for small presents to be thrown into the room. The presents are then passed around among the people until each person has the correct present! It is thought to be bad luck to find out who sent each present.
Another tradition is the Sternsinger (or star singers) who go from house to house, sing a song and collect money for charity (this is a Catholic tradition). They are four children, three who dress up like the Wise men and one carries a star on a stick as a symbol for the Star of Bethlehem. When they’re finished singing, they write a signature with chalk over the door of the house. The sign is written in a special way, so Christmas 2015 would be: 20*C*M*B*16. It is considered to be bad luck to wash the sign away – it has to fade by itself. It has usually faded by the 6th of January (Epiphany). The Sternsingers visit houses between December 27th and January 6th.
Over in Germany and Austria, the famous Ski Jumping ‘Four Hills Tournament‘ (‘Vierschanzentournee’) is held. It starts in Germany with Oberstdorf (Germany) on the 29th or 30th December and Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany) on New Years Day and continues in Austria with Innsbruck (Austria) on 3rd or 4th of January and Bischofshofen (Austria) on the 6th January.