Christmas in Germany is a month long affair which begins with Advent. According to German traditions and customs, legend has it that on the Christmas eve, animals speak to each other, rivers turn to wine, and Christmas bells can be heard over the mountains.
Wreaths and Calendars
To mark the beginning of Christmas, people in Germany hang Christmas wreaths with four candles placed in them. One of these four candles is lit every passing Sunday before the Christmas eve. This is one of their most unique traditions. The Advent wreath in German is known as 'Adventskranz'. Incidentally, the Christmas calendar or the Adventskalender originated in Germany. It was created to get the children involved in the celebrations, counting down the Christmas eve. This was later adapted in other countries.
Markets and Food
The beginning of Advent is characterized by the setting up of Christmas markets which are known as 'Weihnachtsmärkte' in German. It is in these markets that all the Christmas decorations and ornaments are available. Food that is associated with Christmas like wine, ginger bread, cookies etc. are available here. The traditional Christmas day feast consists of either a goose or a rabbit roast. Some of the traditional dishes are sauerkraut with apples and potato dumplings.
Christmas tree decoration was a tradition which first started in Germany. Traditionally, the tree was decorated by the elders in the family. The Christmas tree which is known as 'Tannenbaum' in German was hidden from the children with the intention of surprising them. The tree is decorated with crafts, bells, candy etc. The most common decoration is the 'Christbaumgeback', which is a Christmas pastry used to decorate the tree. Some families also use Christmas pyramids instead of the tree. The tree is only brought down on either the 1st of January or the 6th of January, which is considered as the kings day.
Gifts and Celebrations
Once the Advent begins, the children put shoes or socks in the windowsills on the 6th of December for St. Nicholas, along with letters written to him. It is believed that on that day, a messenger known as Christkind comes down to people's homes, along with a book of sins. If the child has been a good kid, then his stockings are filled with gifts or candies, otherwise it is filled with twigs. On January 6th, boys and girls dress up as kings and sing carols. It is on this day that the initials of the three kings C, M, and H are inscribed on the entrances of homes with chalk. The Christmas tree is revealed on the 24th of December and gifts are exchanged. Families host big feasts, and the air is full of merrymaking and celebration. The 25th of December is more of a quiet day reserved for religious practices. The next day is also a public holiday in Germany and is reserved for helping people in need.