Christmas Traditions: Germany vs America
Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year” and I can’t stress enough how excited I am to experience this beautiful season once again! It’s so great to gather with family, have some delicious food and share gifts together. I was thinking about traditions that we have in our family, and how they are a mix of German and American. There are some big (and little) differences between the two cultures and how Christmas is celebrated… so let’s take a look!
1| Advent wreath (Adventskranz). While it is not as common in the States, especially in non-practicing Christian homes, in Germany it is an important part of Christmas traditions that was started by Lutherans back in the 16th century. Advent wreaths are typically made from real pine branches, 4 wide candles and some small decorations (like berries, dried flowers, etc.). It can be bought in a store but many families make them from scratch and decorate them as a family. The candles are lit each Sunday leading up to Christmas. This period of time is called Adventszeit (advent time). Families usually gather around the advent wreath (which is placed on a table), have some time together while drinking tea, having desserts, and chatting. Children usually sing advent songs (both at home and in school).
2| Advent calendars (Adventskalendar). The concept is very familiar to me… I’ve had one every year since I was little. The Advent Calendar is a series of windows with numbers on them. On December 1st, children open 1 window each day leading to Christmas. In Germany, kids get either calendars with chocolates or in the form of a book with little stories each day. I’ve recently seen adult Advent Calendars featuring 24 bottles of wine or craft beers!
3| Christmas cookies. When you say Christmas cookie, in America you immediately think gingerbread cookies or frosted sugar cookies. In Germany however, the choice is not so obvious - there is a huge variety of super yummy traditional cookies that include but not limited to gingerbread (Lebkuchen), Marzipan cookies, hazelnut/almond cookies, Vanillekipferln (vanilla crescents). Check out this article to find out more options for traditional German Christmas cookies (with recipes of course!).
4| St. Niklaustag & Knecht Ruprecht/Krampus. All German kids particularly love one morning in December that is not Christmas Day. Did you guess it right? Of course, it’s December 6th - Saint Nicholas Day or Sankt Nikolaus Tag! While it is not an official holiday, it's celebrated by lots of families with children. Kids usually prepare their boots or shoes and place them behind bedroom doors with hope that they will find presents there when they get up on St. Niklaustag. Those who behave nicely will find their shoes full of sweets, nuts, fruits, and those who were naughty will have to deal with Krampus or Knecht Ruprecht (wild man with a bushy beard, dressed in a hooded brown cloak). Krampus is said to leave a piece of coal, sticks etc in the bad-behaved kids’ shoes. Be sure to check our Krampus shop to choose a present for yourself or your loved ones.
5| Real vs Fake tree. In America we are used to seeing Christmas decorations as early as October. This applies both to stores and restaurants and to households. This is a perk of a fake Christmas tree - you can set it up whenever you want. However in Germany, you’ll be hard pressed to find a faux Christmas tree! Real trees are the norm and they start decorating them on December 24th, on Christmas Eve. This partially explains why advent wreaths are so popular - families need something to gather around, with a nice pine smell and festive mood.
6| Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte). One of my favorite things about Christmas in Germany is, of course, Christmas markets. This tradition applies not only to Germany, but to most of the European countries but in my opinion German markets are the best. Not surprisingly, they always appear in the Best Christmas Markets rankings. It’s like a fairytale - gorgeous Christmas tree surrounded by small wooden stands, the smell of mulled wine (Glühwein), roasted almonds, wurst, and Christmas cookies - what can be better than this?
In America, it is much more common to see small pop-up holiday markets; 1-2 day craft fairs where local artisans can sell their creations. However, in Chicago we have a full German Christkindlmarkt! It is set up in the middle of downtown Chicago and is the closest you’ll get to the feeling of shopping in Europe without getting on a plane.
I encourage you to check out local Christmas markets in your area, but be sure to check if they have any updated safety guidelines before you go.
7| Christkind vs Santa. American kids receive their presents from jolly ol’ Santa Claus, who travels on reindeer, delivers presents through chimneys, and wears a red coat with white fur. And since he travels a lot on Christmas Eve and gets a bit hungry, children traditionally leave a glass of milk and a plate of cookies for him. In Germany, in turn, a special guest called Christkind visits home and brings presents. Now, although the exact translation of Christkind is a child of Jesus, in popular culture it is portrayed as a young girl with wings and crown - similar to an angel.
8| Christmas Day vs Christmas Eve. German people celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve - December 24th, and most stores are closed after 2 pm on this day. The following 2 days - 25th and 26th of December are national holidays. Unlike American kids, German kids open their gifts on December 24th (lucky them!). The holiday itself usually lasts till January 6th and this is also when Christmas markets stop operations until next season.
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9| Christmas food. Christmas food traditions in the USA have eclectic origins, but are mostly from the UK: roasted root vegetables as a side dish, mashed potatoes, gravy, and the centerpiece being a stuffed roasted fowl (pheasant, goose, duck, or turkey). Of course, each family has their own traditions that are partially based on the origins of family members.
The same applies to German traditions which vary depending on the region. Overall, their traditional food includes roast goose and roast carp, although suckling pig or duck may also be served. Typical side dishes include roast potatoes and various forms of cabbage such as kale, Brussels sprouts, and red cabbage. Dessert typically includes Christmas Stollen, considered one of the best Christmas pastries in the world! The most famous Stollen, which can be found at many supermarkets, is called Dresdner Stollen. This tasty version bursts with nuts and fruit and is sure to change your mind about our version of a fruitcake. Yum!
10| German pickle ornament. This is one of the most controversial “German” traditions. The thing is that most Germans have no idea about the Christmas pickle tradition. Is this a real thing that was just forgotten or is this another marketing trick? If you are interested in finding out, read this article from my blog when I tried to find out the real meaning of this tradition.
Looking for more interesting German Christmas info? Check out this video from Feli from Germany:
What do you think about this post? Did you find something new about German traditions? What traditions do you have in your family? Share in the comments below, I am super excited to read them!
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