It took me a long time to learn the word for Christmas in German. I put the word into the ‘too long’ category and assumed everyone knew the English word anyway. I kept calling it Christmas for some time – until December arrived and the word was difficult to avoid. Plus, it turns out most Germans look at you in a confused way if you use the English word! I can now confidently pronounce Weihnachten and have been fortunate to witness many delightful traditions that would not be possible in Australia, largely due to the weather and day light hours! Read on to find out what to expect in Germany during the festive season.
At the end of November, Christmas Markets start to pop up all over Berlin. There are hundreds to choose from! The Alt-Rixdorf Weihnachtsmarkt is my favourite – it feels like stepping back in time. As you walk down the narrow, cobbled laneways into the market, fairy lights sparkle in the trees and you can hear Christmas tunes floating through the air. It is cold – very cold – but every market sells Glühwein, which warms you up in no time! I was so sad to hear about the recent Christmas market tragedy – my condolences to everybody who has been affected and wishing you a safe new year.
At this time of year, the day light hours are getting shorter and shorter. The sun goes down at around four o’clock in the afternoon and it does not rise again until the next day (at around ten in the morning). But thankfully, the city lights up with Christmas sparkle! Fairy lights dance in the trees and buildings, candles flicker in the windows and bright stars hang from the balconies. It is a very magical time of year.
In Germany, there is a lovely tradition of burning advent candles (again, the candles brighten up the apartment when the daylight hours are minimal). We bought a wreath this year in keeping with tradition – there are four candles and you light one each Sunday in the lead up to Christmas.
These delightful wooden men are often on display in people’s homes in the lead up to Christmas. Light the flavoured incense (gingerbread is my favourite) and then put the wooden doll back together. The smoke will float out the pipe and give the room and festive scent!
Baking and crafts
German families start baking any time from the end of November onwards, in the lead up to Christmas day. We have had endless supplies of home-baked goods from relatives – largely spiced cookies in Christmas shapes and jam biscuits. Christmas is also the perfect time to start crafting – check out the markets for the best hand-crafted products.
St. Nicholas Day
This day is a great excuse for more gift-giving. In Germany, children put out their shoes on the night of the fifth of December and awake the next day to find them filled with small gifts and sweets. I didn’t really know about this tradition until my students came into school one day, excited to share what they had received from St. Nicholas (or Nikolai)! Next year, I will take advantage of this tradition myself!
The Christmas Tree
On Christmas Eve, German families decorate their Christmas tree with glass baubles, lovely wooden toys, sweets and candles – yes, candles with an open flame! We would never do this in Australia – I guess the risk of bush fires is too great – but it certainly is magical having flickering flames dancing around the living room.
In Germany, Christmas Eve is the night that everybody sits around the Christmas tree sharing presents. I guess they don’t need to wait until Christmas Day, because St. Nicholas already came on the fifth! It is quite nice to be able to open presents, have a big feast and then fall asleep in bed – you wake up the next day and it feels like it was all a very good dream!
Just like back at home, Christmas Day is where the family gathers around the table for a warm Christmas meal, accompanied by plenty of Glühwein! This year, we enjoyed a vegetarian nut roast with red sauerkraut, potato dumplings and a creamy garlic and herb sauce! Of course, a warm main meal makes sense here, in below freezing temperatures. In Australia, we are just as likely to throw a few prawns on the barbie and grab an ice cold beer out of the esky!
Christmas in Germany has certainly been different here in the Northern Hemisphere – I have really enjoyed the markets, candles and delicious food. It is a magical experience! Still, I can’t help thinking that somewhere, on the other side of the world, people are playing footy on the beach and soaking up the sun with a cool beverage in hand! Life certainly is different in the Northern Hemisphere!
Merry Christmas to all my fellow bloggers, travellers and readers – thanks for a wonderful year! Wishing you all the best for 2017!!!