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Christmas

Christmas is the most important family holiday in Germany. At its centre is the celebration of the birth of Christ on the 25th of December. The German word for Christmas, ‘Weihnacht’ (Literally, ‘Sacred Night’), stems from the night upon which Christians believe Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, was born. Around this time in pre-Christian times, people celebrated the winter solstice, the Romans celebrated Saturnalia and worshiped Saturn, the sun God and the Germanic peoples celebrated Yule and the “Raunachten”, a festival of twelve days from the 25th of December until the 6th of January when they believed the spirits of darkness were cast out.

Advent

AdventskranzThe four weeks leading up to Christmas are known as Advent. The first day of Advent falls on the first Sunday in December. At this time, people decorate their living rooms with Advent wreaths made out of green fir branches and light the first of four white candles. On each Sunday after this another candle is lit. Families will sit together in the warm candle light and drink coffee or tea and eat gingerbread cakes called Lebkuchen and a dense, fruity loaf known as Stollen.

Children are given Advent calendars with 24 little doors or pockets and every morning are allowed to open one of them and take out chocolates, sweets and little toys. The children write a list of their present wishes for Father Christmas. On the evening of the 5th of December children put their clean shoes or boots by the door. During the night St Nicholas comes and fills them with nuts, fruit and little presents.

Christmas Markets

During Advent, many German towns hold traditional Christmas and Christkindl markets. The Christkindl market in Nuremberg, the Pastry market in Dresden and the Christmas markets in Lübeck, Goslar, Erfurt and Kempten in the Allgäu are particularly well loved and attract many visitors. The festively decorated stalls offer punch, a rich, hot, spicy wine called Glühwein, candy apples, Bratwurst, wooden figures, nut crackers and cribs as well as winter hats, warm woolly socks and much more.

WeihnachtsbaumChristmas tree

On Christmas Eve, or shortly before then, the Christmas tree is decorated. These are mostly pine or spruce which are bought at stalls in the towns or are cut down from designated areas in forests. The evergreen tree is a symbol for life and everlasting hope. They are decorated with candles, baubles, silver tinsel and little angels. Traditionally a crib showing the manger scene is set out under the tree with wooden figures showing the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the animals present at the birth of Christ.

Christmas Eve

In the afternoon and evening of the 24th of December people go to church services with nativity plays. There the Christmas story is told or acted out by children. The baby Jesus (‘Christkind’) or Father Christmas bring presents. In Catholic households the presents are brought by St Nicholas (Protestants tend to reject the worship of this particular saint).

The Father Christmas that is known today with a white bushy beard and a red coat has been developed from a Coca-Cola advertising figure from the early 1930s where he appears on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. In Germany, Father Christmas lives in the forest and comes to the houses on foot. He carries a big sack on his back filled with Christmas presents.