How Germany celebrates Christmas

By Julia Schneider

Visiting Germans at Christmas:  Which rituals are important and why a festive meal is part of it. 

The first taste of Christmas comes with the gingerbread and speculoos that appear on supermarket shelves out of the clear late summer sky as early as the beginning of September. From the first of Advent, Christmas markets, Christmas hits on the radio and fairy lights spread Christmas cheer throughout the country. Along the versatile food and beverage stands it is really great to stroll, enjoy and relax. Christmas markets are magic attractions every year. Actually, there is a market in every city that opens on the first Advent. Hot cocoa, bratwurst, mulled wine and roasted almonds are among the popular snacks and drinks. In addition, handmade Christmas tree decorations, candles, knitwear and much more can be discovered here. Nüremberg, Dresden, Frankfurt and Aachen are particularly well known for their Christmas markets. Fire, torches, sparkle – they are fantastic worlds of light.  

Such a Christmas vibe, however, raises the question of the extent to which Christmas nowadays still reminds us of the birth of Jesus Christ or if it is rather associated with consumerism and commerce. We from Leb Bunt e.V. have examined this more closely. 

Which customs are important to Germans at Christmas? 

In a survey to Leb Bunt e.V. members, most respondents named visiting Christmas markets and baking cookies. If you want to get in the mood for Christmas, you are certain to turn your kitchen into a Christmas bakery once or twice in the run-up to it.  

Decorating Christmas trees and buying presents were third and fourth ranked. Last year alone, around 29.8 million Christmas trees entered German households. Sales of the traditional greenery at Christmas time thus rose to a record high; preference is given to genuine Nordmann firs, because the Nordmann fir has soft needles and impresses with a relatively long shelf life, and plastic imitations are frowned upon. 

Christmas tree or holy fir tree? The traditional tree for Christmas has many names, Christmas tree is probably the best known of them. In the southern part of the Federal Republic, however, there is often a fir tree in one’s own four walls, and the Bavarians in particular like to refer to their Christmas fire of lights in the living room as such. People who prefer simple terminology, just sit down simply under the decorated fir tree. 😉 

In addition to homemade cookies, speculoos and gingerbread, a feast on Christmas Eve is also part of the festivities for many. Usually a roast goose with potato dumplings and red cabbage or potato salad with sausage is part of the festively decorated table.  

Why do many Germans eat a simple dish like potato salad on Christmas Eve? In ancient Christian tradition, Lent was from St. Martin’s Day on November 11 to December 24. That’s why a simple dish is put on the table on Christmas Eve, as a symbolic Lenten meal, so to speak.  

But not only for the physical well-being must be provided at Christmas. For a large proportion of respondents, family values such as love, security, recollection and childhood memories are also very important at Christmas. Christmas, and Christmas Eve in particular, is and remains a celebration of family and charity.   

What is a typical German Christmas like? 

In Germany, there are two Christmas holidays, December 25 and 26. For many, December 24, Christmas Eve, is divided into a hectic morning and a festive part in the evening. If Christmas Eve falls on a weekday, stores are open until noon, and people are busy getting last-minute gifts or groceries for the holiday meal. After that, it’s time to decorate the Christmas tree with lights and colorful baubles, wrap presents and prepare the meal. 

That’s why we also asked the members of Leb Bunt e.V. whether they associate Christmas with stress, hectic or even quarrels. Fortunately, this is not the case. Rather, the respondents associate Christmas with inner peace, tranquility and serenity.  

Families get together early on Christmas Eve. Some maintain traditions such as singing or playing music together. After the meal, the presents are handed over, and the packages under the Christmas tree are unwrapped. Weeks before Christmas, children had already written a wish list to the Christ Child and are excitedly waiting to see if their wishes will come true. This tradition is also called Bescherung and is often considered the most outstanding part of Christmas Eve. (Please note that while in most countries people celebrate the Bescherung only on 25.12., in this country it is celebrated one day earlier.) What would be a Christmas tree without gifts beneath it? In the meantime, the pre-Christmas period brings in considerable sums, so that retail and online trade experience an absolute high at this time of the year.  

Quietly trickles the snow, 

Still and rigid lies the lake, 

Christmas shines in the forest: 

Rejoice, Christ Child is coming soon.  

This is the first verse of one of the oldest and best known Christmas songs in the German language. Even if the weather cannot be influenced, snow is simply part of Christmas for some club members. It is no coincidence that there is the phrase “White Christmas”! 

Young people who have returned to their hometown over the holidays often go out again late at night to meet old friends. No interviewed member of Leb Bunt e.V. associates Christmas with the feeling of being alone! This is a great result because the association members are seniors and immigrants – people that often live in loneliness (not only at Christmas Eve).  

Do only religious Germans celebrate Christmas? 

No. Although it is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, Germans who do not profess any faith also celebrate Christmas. For most, celebrating Christmas is an important family tradition. Quite a few Germans go to church on Christmas. For some members of Leb Bunt e.V., attending Christmas mass at midnight on Christmas Eve is a ritual they would not want to miss. Surprisingly, no member of the association interviewed ad hoc associates Christmas with Jesus Christ or the Christmas crib with the Christ Child in the stable. To sum up, while some Germans go to church, others visit friends or relatives while others just enjoy the time at home with the family. Thus, gifts are part of a typical German Christmas Eve, but at least as important are memories, feelings and sensual experiences. 

Are you curious and want to know more about Leb Bunt e.V.? Then contact us under: Willkommen bei LEB BUNT! – Leb Bunt (