CONTRIBUTED BY JESSICA
Note: This article is “Out of the Archives” for this season!
Prepping for Christmas – for Americans this usually means stringing up lights and decorating trees in our living room, but our German neighbors have a few other traditions you might see around your village. Here’s a short list of German Christmas traditions to help get you in the spirit.
- Advent calendars– Advent Calendars, usually for children, count down the days until Christmas by allowing them to open a small gift each day. Store bought Calendars are usually chocolate with small punch out holes, though many families will make Advent Calendars that include small presents instead of chocolate.
- Advent candles– The four Sundays preceding Christmas are called Advent Sunday, and Germans usually celebrate with a wreath and four candles. During the first Advent Sunday one candle is lit, during the second two are lit, and so on. Many Germans will go to a local florist to order a wreath before the Advent begins, though many will make their own more modern designs themselves. Pre-mad Advent candle sets can be found in most local stores.
- Sankt Nikolaustag (St. Nicholas Day)– St. Nicholas Day, December 6th, is the day that German children celebrate by polishing their shoes and placing them by the door in hopes that St. Nicholas will fill them with candy and treats. The predecessor to the American “stocking”, good children are usually rewarded with treats while misbehaving children traditionally receive a switch.
- Christmas markets– Christmas markets pop up in cities and towns all over Germany. Most markets will have a local tradition (such as the ginger bread men in Aachen or the almond cookies in Frankfurt). Check out our Christmas Market calendar and our guide to specific markets.
- Stollen– Stollen is the German version of a fruit cake- though not exactly what English speakers would associate with a traditional “fruit cake”. Stollen cakes are sold most notably at the Dresden Christmas Market, though many families will make their own to give to friends and family throughout the season.
- Christmas tree– Traditionally Germans don’t set up a Christmas Tree (Weinachtbaum) in their home until Christmas Eve- though more and more families are buying their trees early and setting them up during the Advent season. Many families wait so long to buy their trees because they continue to use real candles on their trees instead of electric lights. Just like American trees, German trees are usually topped with an angle or a star. Some German families will put a small nativity scene under their tree next to the presents. Trees in Germany stay up until Three Kings Day (Epiphany).
- Stars– At almost every Christmas Market you’ll see a stand selling paper stars. Most families will hang one in their window.
- The German Pickle– This is one of the strangest “traditions” in all of Germany. The story goes that the last ornament on the tree is the Christmas Pickle, a glass pickle that usually blends into the tree quite well. The first child to spot the pickle gets an extra present from Santa! The first adult is said to get good luck for the following year.There are many different ideas about how the pickle tradition came to be, but it appears that the truth is this isn’t a tradition at all! Many German’s are unfamiliar with the myth. In fact, in my years living here I have only seen one German family celebrate this tradition- and they only did so after seeing a pickle ornament for sale in when they were travelling through America. Thinking this “tradition” was humorous, they decided to start celebrating it with their family. Some towns in Germany do actually sell glass blown pickle ornaments, but there seems to be no evidence that there is any tradition connected with them.