24 Little Doors and other German Christmas Traditions
Dezember in Germany……a month full of presents, yummy food and family time. Advent calendars, Christmas fairs, St Nikolas and the Christkind all belongs to the run up to Christmas.
24 Little Doors
On the 1st of December it starts; you may open your first door of your Advent calendar. Curiosity and excitement to know what is hidden in the calendar – is it chocolate, sweets, books or even small toys? Many shops and websites offer calendars which are already filled with little gifts. However, especially for toddlers and young children, preparing a hand-crafted calendar and filling the packages yourself is special and so much more personal. An Advent calendar is supposed to shorten the weeks before Christmas for kids and make the ‘waiting’ easier! If you are looking for a special gift for your wife or husband, there are Advent calendars available for adults too filled with cosmetics, liquor, pralines or food – all the height of extravagance!
4 Sundays : 4 Candles
On each of the four Sundays before Christmas it is traditional to light a candle on an Advent wreath. These Sundays are ideal for a cosy days spent at home, baking Christmas cookies (and of course eating them), drinking Glühwein or punch, decorating the house together with your kids, listening to Christmas carols and singing Christmas songs, writing Christmas cards to your family and friends and getting into the Christmas spirit. And most importantly do not forget to write or draw a letter to the Christkind with all your Christmas wishes. Place the letter on a window sill and hopefully the Christkind will fly by and grab the letter.
It is not only Germans who love their Christmas markets; buses full of people from the Netherlands, Belgium and other European countries come to Germany on the weekends to visit the Christmas markets. With so many delicious foods and wine it is difficult to make a choice as to what to eat: Glühwein or Feuerzangenbowle, toasted bread with deliciously melted Raclette cheese, mushrooms in garlic sauce of the typical German Bratwurst, to name a few. This is your chance to buy last minute Christmas presents. Here you can find special gifts for all the family – there are many hand crafted items, jewellery, bags and food items. The most famous markets are in the big cities such as Cologne and Berlin but almost all cities in Germany have their own Christmas market. The bigger ones are very popular but the smaller ones are more cosy and intimate (and perhaps only open on the weekend.)
Christmas Market Highlights
The Christmas markets at Castle Merode and Eulenbroich Castle in Rösrath and the most romantic in Germany. At Merode a giant Christmas tree stands in the castle courtyard while thousands of candles, torches, and lanterns illuminate the castle grounds. Visitors will have the opportunity to see the Christmas Angel appearing in a tower window, reciting Christmas poems. For children there is the Punch and Judy show, a carousel to ride and a living nativity scene complete with animals to pet. At Eulenbroich around 100 artisans display their crafts and mulled wine and children’s punch are served in the courtyard. There is also a cultural programme including musical events and carol singing.
Christmas markets with activities for children are particularly popular. Next to the nativity scene at the Christmas market in Augsburg there is the Himmlisches Postamt (heavenly post office). Mail sent from here is delivered to the recipient with a postmark from the village Christkind in Austria. At Nürnberg there is a special Christmas market for children with an old fashioned carousel, a child-sized steam train and visits from the Nürnberg Christkind. There are also stalls with workshops for children and the Sternenhaus offers a cultural programme with over 160 events.
Then there are the extraordinary Christmas markets. Usually the markets take place in the middle of the city, however, there are some awesome locations. The Christmas market in the Ravennaschlucht is situated under a 40 meter high railway viaduct, and has Christmas concerts performed within a sea of lights. A Christmas fair above the trees with an upside down house, you’ll find in the south-east of Germany at Wald Wipfel Weg. An amazing and crazy place that kids will love to visit. There is a house where all the rooms are upside down!
St Nikolas comes on the 6th of December: good children can expect little presents, but if they have been naughty, St Nikolas will tell them to behave better next year. Some families place their shoes in front of the door, in the hope that St Nikolas will leave gifts in them. In other families St Nikolas himself will come by but before you get your presents you need to sing a song for him or recite a poem.
This is one of the most exciting days for children during the year. Food is very important on this special day. Some families keep it simple with potato salad and sausages while others will chose Fondue or Raclette. The most typical German Christmas dinners are goose with red cabbage and dumplings or blue carp with potatoes and beetroot. Personally, I prefer Raclette because you can prepare everything during the day and within minutes you can eat when the kids get suddently hungry. Besides the main dish, that is eaten in the evening, we also have Christmas cookies, gingerbread, chestnuts or stollen.
Every family has a bit of their own traditions, however, the following are quite common everywhere. In the morning of Christmas Eve the tree will be decorated together with tree balls and ornaments, tinsel and candles. Either you buy a Christmas tree or you fell a tree yourself in special marked areas. And the Christmas crib will be set up under the Christmas tree.
Even if you are not religious, people tend to go to church on Christmas Eve, either around 6pm or 11pm. Listening to “Oh Holy Night” in a dark church only lit by candles definitely makes Christmas for me. This time when families are out of the house Christkind has time to place all the presents under the Christmas tree and light the candles. When the bell rings you may see the tree and start opening the packages. Some families read the Christmas story or sing Christmas songs together.
Christmas is not only special for children, and it shouldn’t be all about presents. This time of the year is a chance to come home, no matter how far you live apart, enjoy some peaceful days with your family, visit old friends who you don’t have the time to see during the year when everyone is stressed and busy!
Julia, a native of Bavaria, is founder of the travel blog Travelingkinder