Celebrating A German Christmas: Understanding the Crucial Elements


1) Glühwein

Glühwein, also known as spiced mulled wine, is one of the most important parts when it comes to celebrating a real German Christmas. The most important ingredients of Glühwein are, tada, red wine, cinnammon sticks, orange peel, and possibly hazelnuts. Glühwein has been successfully copied by countries such as Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands with variations in names, such as Glögg. Just kidding, people!
However, I do believe that there must be some common origin, because Swedish Glögg does not differ too much from German Glühwein. Spiced mulled wine is already served weeks ahead of time. Whenever those fancy Christmas Markets open is when you can snag your first cup of the great drink. Which leads me to my next topic…

2) Christmas Markets aka as Weihnachtsmarkt

Weihnachtsmarkets are widely spread throughout Germany, Austria, and yes, even parts of France. They are an important part of the German tradition for they offer great opportunities to sell hand-made merchandise, promote traditional German food and drinks, and provide a landmark in each city, so to speak. Holiday Markets can be small in range or tremendous in size. The Trier Holiday Market is an annual event that draws people from far away because of how it’s built up around the market place and the church. The Cologne one is rather disappointing in size considering the 1 million citizens the city houses and is rather chaotic. The Heidelberg one is parted in three different pieces so that you walk up the Hauptstrasse and run into them as you shop. Then there is a holiday market in Speyer that is open until January.


Typically, they close on December 23, one day before the Christmas craziness begins. They are a great opportunity for after-work happy hour (I am not joking) and socializing with your friends. Without them a crucial element of German culture would be amiss.

3) Christmas Eve Mass and opening presents

Christmas Eve is the most important evening on Christmas. Typically, Germans don’t work on December 24, or if they do, they stop after noon. Stores will not be open for longer than that and they are closed throughout the holidays. So what do you do in these 2 and a half days of blessed time off? You cook! And lots of it! While Americans invite their family over on Thanksgiving, we have our loved ones around us on Christmas. People start eating their first meal on Christmas Eve. After this, you might sing a few Christmas Carols. And then it’s time for Bescherung – the German word (yes, they actually have a word!) for packing out your presents on Christmas Eve. Why then? Because typically you would go to a Midnight Mass together and then give your presents in the night from the 24th to 25th of December. However, since most children do not or cannot stay awake for so long anymore, the tradition has changed a couple of hours earlier.

4) 2 Days of Christmas

I’ve always wondered why Christmas is such a big deal in the States. After all, you only have one day! Germany, on the contrary, has two full days of Christmas and then Christmas Eve (which is very important as you can see above). Usually, one day or evening is reserved for the close family and one day is reserved for extended family (such as grandparents, cousins etc.). However, as children grow older and turn into teenagers, they make a point in meeting up on December 26 – the second day of Christmas. Too much bliss around family can be annoying, therefore this is a great day to exchange gifts and spend time with your clique. Stores are not open on the second day of Christmas. In the US, this is one of the most important days when it comes to post-holiday shopping.


5) Keeping Your Tree Until Three Saints Day

This is something that is probably true in other countries, as well. When you have the courage to buy a real Christmas tree, then of course you have to keep it way longer than the actual holiday. You start getting rid of it around January 6, which is Three King’s Day, a significant Catholic holiday. In Germany, children actually paint parts of their faces with ashes and make a helluva lot of noise while walking through the streets of a small town or village. Their purpose is to write the date on everyone citizen’s door after spraying holy water on it. They also like to ring the doorbell and collect money while they’re at it. I believe the most accurate purpose of their visit is to bless each person’s house (and door) for the upcoming year (until January 6). It’s nice to observe and I hope it won’t become extinct any time soon because these small traditions is what keeps the culture alive.

6) Christmas Pickle IS NOT a German Tradition

The other day at work a co-worker mentioned the Christmas pickle and announced that it was a typical German tradition brought over by immigrants. I stared at her in disbelief and almost declared her crazy but then I did some research. Many versions of this story. circulate on the web: St. Nick brought with sweets and pickles and children hung these on the Christmas tree (false!). German immigrants carried over a glass pickle ornament on their voyage to America (false!). The lies go on!
To this date, I’ve never seen a pickle ornament hanging on any German Christmas tree nor have I ever heard a German speak about anything remotely resembling this concept. If I were to guess, I would say it comes from a country as exotic as Russia or Poland, but that is simply a guess. We hang Ginger Bread and sparkly red ornaments on our trees, I can give you that much. But pickles?! Please!

I hope this helped to clarify what to do and what not to do during a German Christmas. I wish you some happy holidays and don’t forget:

Be merry! Frohe Weihnachten!

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