It’s been pouring all day, in true German fashion. But no one cares because they are all inside preparing for family and church. And even though it’s grey and soggy out, the constant ringing of church bells provides a festive reminder.
I’ve said before that I think Germans do a better job of celebrating Christmas. Sure, there’s cookies and candy galore, Christmas trees, and presents, but everything is just a little bit different. Allow me to take you through a typical German Christmas season…who knows, you might want to adopt some festivities into your holidays.
The last weekend in November marks the start of the holiday season with the opening of Christmas Markets. The Weihnachtsmarkt becomes a central meeting point for the community, where everyone comes together to drink Glühwein, eat Currywurst, and stroll the Altstadt. The typical Weihnachtsmarkt will always include a Ferris Wheel and some attractions for the kids (like a mini amusement park). This year, Bielefeld added an ice rink for Curling and skating.
Santa Comes Early
On December 6th, put your boots out because St. Nikolaus is coming to town. This tradition is observed in many European countries. Children leave their boots in front of the door, and wake up on Dec. 6th to find them stuffed with chocolates and oranges. If they are naughty, their boot will have a lump of coal. I asked a German friend about this tradition, and he said he loved getting oranges on Nikolaustag, since the fruit was so rare that time of year.
Advent is a Big Deal
I’ve been going to church since I was little, but none of the churches I went to really emphasized Advent. In Germany, it’s both a religious experience and something observed at home throughout the season. Every flower shop sells Advent candles and wreaths, and families gather every Sunday for Advent tea or dinner. Plus, everyone has an Advent calendar. These calendars typically have chocolates, but can also have beauty items, toys, and more. The surprise on Dec. 6 is always a chocolate St. Nick.
The Tree Stays Outside
While the Weihnachtsbaum is usually purchased in advance, it doesn’t usually get decorated until Christmas Eve. Until then, most people will leave the tree wrapped up on their patios. When it comes time to decorate the tree, it is similar to the US where everyone will have different ornaments and decor. Most trees will have candles, garland, and occasionally, dried fruit (you can even purchase trees with dried lemon and orange slices attached).
Christmas Comes Early
In Germany, Christmas is on Heiligabend, or as we know it, Christmas Eve. Shops close at 1:00 p.m. and the holiday begins. Trees are decorated, feasts are enjoyed, and presents are open. Last year, our building was joyful (and maybe a little buzzed) until the wee hours of Christmas morning. 🍻
Everything (as usual) is Closed
From the 24 until the 27, everything is closed. No grocery, pharmacy or Boxing Day shopping. Even the Christmas Markets are closed. Go to the markets on the 23rd to experience Germans preparing for the 3-day apocalypse. We ran out of food by the 26th last year, and spent the evening at a local pizza place. This year, we plan on making a tradition out of it. 🍕
Everything being closed is one of my favorite things about living in Germany. Especially around a major holiday, it helps relieve the stress of work looming over you when you’re enjoying time with family. But honestly, I think most Germans use the extra day for recovery (see above re: staying up all night drinking).
Whether you’re celebrating tonight, tomorrow, or not at all, I wish you a warm belly full of Glühwein, and visions of Pfeffernüsse dancing in your head. Frohe Weihnachten.🎄