Christmas in Germany: A Magical Tradition

christmas in germany

Christmas in Germany

Christmas in Germany has a tradition going back centuries before the birth of Christ.  I can’t make it this year, but  do have fond memories of Christmases past . . .

What reminded me was that we may have a White Christmas in Atlanta for the first time since 1882!! (In case you’re wondering, it doesn’t snow much here in the South).  We didn’t even have snow flurries for  Christmas except in  1993 . . . and that was also the year I missed them!

I was in Germany for the first time, so I wasn’t too sad.   I was visiting Munich for Christmas with my new girlfriend (now wife) Brigitte. I soon learned that celebrating this time of year was not just about store sales, Home Alone and Charlie Brown TV specials, and the Grinch.  Here they did things right . . . the old-fashioned way.

Christmastime (Weinachten) is a magical time in Deutschland. This country, in fact, created the whole Yule celebration as we know it today.  Germany and Austria had everything:  Snow.  Sleigh rides with horses.  Church bills ringing.  Singing and caroling.  Candle lighting and much more.

The only business carried on was by those who had artisan booths at the ChristKindlMarkt or the numerous coffeehouses that dotted every village and town.  Families also gathered to pray, eat, and visit the old cemeteries to pay their respects to fallen elders. And everybody ate, drank and insisted on being merry . . . and attending Church Mass, of course.

But THESE churches are not commercial warehouses with crosses stuck on them.  They  are CATHEDRALS . . . towering monuments to the sacred commitment of thousands of artisans over a thousand years.  The beauty and majesty of each church – even the small ones – reminded me of how a Bach or a Mozart could be inspired to write such phenomenal music.

Growing up in semi-tropical Savannah, Georgia, I could only dream about such an idyllic setting.  But here it was . . . a real Christmas at last!

christmas in germany

Christmas 2005

Being on hand to experience Christmas in Germany first-hand was like being a 5-year-old all over again.  When my 2-year old niece Christina at the time (she’s 19 now, 3rd from left in the picture) first saw the Christmas Tree and  lit her sparkler on Christmas Eve to welcome the ChristKind (Christ child), I was just as wide-eyed as she was!

The German Christmas season officially begins with the first Sunday of Advent, and the ChristKindlMarkt opens in each city and town to great fanfare.  StollenKuchen, the oldest known German Christmas treat, and Christmas cookies (Plätzchen) are available in every other stall. Gingerbread houses, nativity scenes, hand-carved wooden Nutcracker figures (Nussknacker), Christmas pyramids (Weihnachtspyramiden), and lighted city streets and homes are all signs that Christmas EVE is on its way (Christmas DAY is almost an afterthought to most Catholic Germans).

The Advent wreath (Adventskranz) is adorned with four candles, one of which is lit on each of the four Sundays preceding Christmas. The first Advent wreath, which appeared in the mid-19th century, had 4 larger candles and 19 smaller ones. Each day one additional candle was lit to help the children count the days until Christmas.   Today only the four larger candles remain. However, the tradition has been exported to many other countries around the world and was adapted to existing customs. The Eastern Orthodox Church’s Advent wreath has 6 candles in order to last through a somewhat longer Advent season.

The Advent wreath has a very ancient tradition.  The ring of light existed among the Germanic tribes, in fact, many centuries before the celebration of Advent. It is believed that fewer candles were lit with each progressive lighting to represent the shortening of the days until the solstice, at which time the Julfest celebrated the return of light. (Incidentally, the English word yule is derived from the Germanic Jul).

Frohe Wienachten! (Merry Christmas!)
Advent, Advent …ein Lichtlein brennt
erst eins, dann zwei, dann drei, dann vier
dann steht das Christkind vor der Tür.

(Advent, Advent . . . a candlelight burns,
first one, then two, then three, then four,
then stands the Christ Child at the door.)

Categories : events


  1. Aline Munsch says:

    Frohe Weihnarchten Michael und Brigitte!

    I will go on in English now, my written German is not as good as my spoken one! I can very much relate to your blog post and indeed Christmas Eve is the real deal! in our tradition too, being from Strasbourg, the European Capital of Christmas with her ‘marché de Noel’ and her ‘Cathédrale’, the lights and the ‘gluewein’, all treats we didn’t get to experience this year in Toronto. We’ll catch up next year…