Many Christmas traditions come from Germany that are known around the world. These include Christmas carols and Advent rituals. In this article we will introduce you to the most important traditions.
Many German Christmas carols are also present in other countries around the world. A good example is the Christmas carol "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht" ("Silent Night, Holy Night"), which has been translated into over 300 languages. Do you know the lyrics in your native language?
Here is the first verse in German:
Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
Alles schläft, einsam wacht
nur das traute hoch heilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
schlaf in himmlischer Ruh',
schlaf in himmlischer Ruh'!
In the run-up to Christmas, many people in Germany visit a Christmas market and enjoy a cup of mulled wine (in German: “Glühwein”) or punch. Such hot drinks are also part of the Christmas tradition in other countries: In Scandinavia, a slightly sweeter version of mulled wine, also known as "Glögg", is drunk.
At Christmas, we traditionally bake Christmas cookies, called "Weihnachtsplätzchen" in Germany. If you don't want to bake them yourself, you can also buy some at the Christmas market. The cookies often have a Christmassy touch due to spices such as cinnamon and cloves. Vanilla crescents, gingerbread and cinnamon stars are examples of typical German Christmas cookies.
In other countries, baking is also part of the Christmas season, for example in Greece. Here, popular Christmas cookies are called "Melomakaronas", which are traditionally baked with olive oil and flavored with lemon syrup.
During the Advent season, the four weeks before Christmas, we often put up an Advent wreath with four candles in Germany. The wreath is usually made of fir branches and an additional candle is lit on each Sunday in Advent. In the first week of Advent, only one candle is lit on the wreath, and on the Sunday before Christmas Eve – or on Christmas Eve itself, as in 2023 – all four candles are lit. The tradition with the wreath also exists in many other countries around the world, but it often hangs on the door and has no candles.
December 6th is St. Nicholas Day in Germany. St. Nicholas is a bishop, and he brings small gifts to children (and sometimes adults). Did you know that the American Santa Claus is a variation of the German St. Nicholas? In the USA, he flies with his sleigh on Christmas night and delivers presents down the chimney. Another variation is the Finnish Santa Claus, who lives in Lapland and delivers presents with his reindeer on Christmas Eve (24.12.).
The Christmas tree is also an old German tradition. At Christmas, it is put up in the home and decorated with Christmas baubles, fairy lights or tinsel. Traditionally, the Christmas tree is a Nordmann fir. Of course, these are not available everywhere in the world due to the climate, but there are now many real-looking artificial trees. In Germany, many people these days prefer such an artificial tree because it doesn't lose needles, looks good year after year and is of course more sustainable.
Despite globalization, traditional Christmas food has remained very regional in Germany. In many German regions, sausages with potato salad are served on Christmas Eve. But there are also many other traditions – on Lake Constance, for example, cheese or meat fondue is a popular Christmas meal. This tradition comes from our Swiss neighbors.
You can find out more about German traditions and public holidays on our blog.
We wish you a wonderful Advent season! 😊