How Christmas is celebrated in Germany! Many of Germany’s wonderful Christmas traditions have found their way into America’s traditions. The Christmas Tree, Tannenbaum, is a German tradition. It began with bringing in boughs and wreaths and yule logs, and then the whole tree came into the home on Christmas Eve. In the old days, trees were decorated with candles, but we all know what a fire hazard that would be! There are flameless candle tapers for Christmas trees now, though. Decorating the Christmas Tree is still a German tradition! It came to America through Prince Albert, the German prince who married Queen Victoria of England. England happily adopted the tree, and so did America. Some of our favorite Christmas songs come from Germany as well, like Stille Nacht (Silent Night), and Oh Tannenbaum (Oh Christmas Tree).
Did you know that the 12 Days of Christmas are truly celebrated in many German speaking countries? The Roman Catholic Church changed the date of the celebration of Christ’s birth from January 6 to December 25 at the behest of the Emperor Constantine, who wanted to join the Roman religion of Sol Invictus (the sun god) with Christianity. Now, January 6 is celebrated as the Epiphany, the visit from the wise men, and signals the end of the Christmas season. Americans tend to take their decorations down before the New Year, but in many places Christmas doesn’t end until January 6.
St. Nicholas Day, or Sankt Nikolaus Tag, is a very popular holiday in Germany. On December 5th, the eve of Sankt Nikolaus Tag, children put freshly polished boots outside their bedroom doors. St Nicholas puts sweets in the boot if the child has been good, and if not? St Nicholas’s buddy, known as Knecht Ruprecht (which translates to Farmer Rupert), comes along with a bag full of birch sticks in case the child was bad! In Bavaria, this dark side of St Nicholas is Krampus, is a hell bound devil type creature with horns. Krampus is celebrated on the evening of December 5th by costumed Krampus characters carrying torches and going door to door to scare the children into being good! We see this tradition in many parts of Europe, in France, the companion of Pere Noel (Father Christmas) is Pere Fouettard (Father Spanker).
Martin Luther, who brought Protestantism to Germany in the 1500s, promoted the change of the gift giving day from December 6, St Nicholas Day, to Christmas Eve. The giver of gifts in much of Europe ( Austria, Switzerland, Germany (in the south and west), the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Slovakia, Hungary, parts of France and Poland) is the Christkind, or Christ Child. German parents tell their children that the Christkind will not come if they are trying to spot him. After the Christkind has left the gifts and exited the home, parents often ring a bell to summon the children to opening gifts. Sounds rather like some common American traditions, yes? Of course, because many of our traditions came from Germany.
One cannot mention German Christmas traditions without mentioning the Christmas Markets! They began in Germany as Winter Markets in the Middle Ages where people would come to stock up for the winter, and trade goods. As people began to buy things for Christmas, the markets went from days to weeks, and morphed into today’s Christmas markets. I have never been to one, but it is on my travel and Christmas list! They seem magical to me!
I just love incorporating many cultures into my Christmas holiday, and the German traditions are near and dear to my heart since I was raised in an area where many Germans settled (the Miami Valley, Ohio). I hope you have a Fröhliche Weihnachten!