German Holiday Traditions

By AlexSeise
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Learning German online isn’t just about picking up a new language to use in school, business and at home. It is also an adventure into German culture and its many rich traditions. Among Germany’s most pronounced traditions are its holiday practices and rituals. Whether you’re planning to visit Germany this holiday season or just want to incorporate a few new traditions into your own plans, this is a great overview of Germany’s Christmas traditions.

Christmas (Weihnachten, in German) is the biggest winter holiday in Germany. It is a time filled with family, friends, get-togethers and even some outdoor sports such as skiing at the numerous snowy resorts. With cold weather settling in, it is a time of cozy gatherings and warm beverages including mulled wine. Many churches hold concerts, organ recitals and chorale services to celebrate with Christmas carols and holiday hymns.

Celebrations within immediate families take place on the evening of December 24 instead of the morning of December 25. Christmas calendars are used by children to count down the days until the arrival of the Weihnachtsmann, the German version of Santa Claus. Traditional families, especially in southern Germany, eliminate the Santa Claus figure altogether and instead believe that the Christ child brings the gifts instead. While most families decorate a Christmas tree several days or weeks before the holiday, some wait until December 24 to trim the fir or pine.

Traditional German Christmas meals are served on the days after Weihnachten. Dishes include a carefully prepared goose or chicken plus fondue, soft raclette cheese and occasionally lamb. Desserts include gingerbread, fruit cake and festively shaped almond-flavored marzipan. Large family gatherings with grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts usually take place on December 25 or 26.

German Christmas decorations heavily reflect the area’s robust culture. Ornately carved nutcrackers and Hummel crèche figurines adorn many mantles while traditional Christmas trees trimmed with tinsel, lights and candy are staples of living rooms. Rauchermen look similar to nutcrackers but are instead used to burn incense. Carved Christmas pyramids contain two or three levels with festive scenes with a horizontal fan atop and are put into motion by the heat of a candle placed inside the decoration. These toys are beloved by children but must be watched carefully so they don't become a fire hazard.

Similar to America, Germany experiences a spike in sales during the holiday season. Most German cities host Christmas markets to sell seasonal foods, decorations and other supplies. The best ones are said to be in Munich, Dresden and Nuremberg, though there are countless others located throughout the country. The Winterschlussverkauf was one of the country’s close-out sales. Unlike American holiday shopping, which kicks off during late November on Black Friday, this sale period took place in early January to sell overstocked items from the previous season. While the practice was no longer restricted to the winter season following 2004 legislation, many shops still continue the tradition of the Winterschlussverkauf anyway.

If you want to engross yourself in the German culture and language, check out ways to learn German online.

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