Christmas in Germany: Everything You Need to Know
There is something truly special about experiencing Christmas in Germany. Savour festive feasts in ancient villages, horse-drawn carriage rides along snowy paths and explore extravagant castles… it’s like something out of a fairytale. Discover the food, traditions and what to do in Germany during the festive period.
Christmas is celebrated with a delicious feast in Germany, and Christmas Eve is the night of nights. Many families spend the evening assembling and decorating their Christmas tree before sitting down to a traditional meal. As many Germans are Catholic, Midnight Mass is on the itinerary, and most won’t eat meat before heading to Church. This means the traditional Christmas Eve meal is often fish. Interestingly, even the less religious Germans will still persist with this custom. It has also become popular to have goose, turkey or duck for dinner. In some areas, it’s cheese fondue paired with a feast of vegetables and breads.
The menu will often differ from region to region, but there are some fairly common items across the country.
Most meals are served with potatoes of some kind. Many tables will feature a serviettenknodel, a German potato dumpling, or kartoffelpuffer, a potato fritter. Alternatively, sometimes the traditional German potato salad will be served. And of course, apple sausage or chestnut stuffing for the poultry and sauerkraut.
To finish off the meal, many families will enjoy traditional German cookies, which, coincidentally, have become a lot more mainstream than many people realise. Known as weihnachtsplätzchen, the classic Christmas cookies include gingerbread cookies and cookies flavoured with festive spices such as cloves, cinnamon and cardamom. Stollen, the German version of fruitcake, is also common.
On Christmas Day, Germans traditionally partake in a traditional Christmas lunch, featuring poultry, braised red cabbage or stewed kale, and a good glass of wine.
Germany is famous for its Christmas markets. Historic city centres light up with weihnachtsmärkte, including holiday lights and decorations. The tradition dates back to the 15th century, and today there are more than 2500 markets throughout Germany, including Munich, Nurnberg and Rothenburg . The markets commonly feature nativity scenes, and you can generally pick up excellent Christmas gifts from the vendors, of which most are handcrafted. The lights and decorations add to the magic that is felt as you walk through the markets, especially at dusk.
Many European Christmas customs have been adopted by countries around the world, so it can be hard to work out which traditions belong to which country. However, we’ve taken a look at how German families celebrate these Christmas traditions.
The Advent Calendar
Counting down the four weeks leading up to Christmas Eve, this is one for the children (or the child in everyone). Every day, a new door on the Advent Calendar is opened to reveal a sweet chocolate. While this has generally been adopted in most countries, including Australia, the tradition began in Germany with plain cards opened to reveal Christmas scenes.
The Advent Wreath
On the fourth Sunday before Christmas, many German families will place a wreath on the living room table. The wreaths feature four large candles, pinecones, and berries. Families will come together around the wreath to reflect, sing carols, or spend time together. Each Sunday, a candle is lit so that by the time Christmas rolls around, all four are burning.
St Nicholas Day
Falling on December 5th, St Nicholas Day is a special night for children, who leave a pair of boots in front of their bedroom doors in the hopes that St Nicholas will visit their house and leave a little gift on the boots. This is a variation on the traditional Santa Claus practice.
The Christmas Tree
It’s a 400-year old tradition, however unlike other countries, many German households will wait until Christmas Eve to decorate their tree. Traditionally, German trees were decorated with apples, gingerbread, and silk flowers. Nowadays, trees are also decorated with lights, intricate ornaments, and sometimes even live candles.
What To Do
Germany is a vast land with so much to see. But around Christmas time, there are definitely some unmissable experiences that would be wonderful for you to see and do while on your trip to Germany.
- The Bavarian villages that sit at the edge of the Alps are a must-see, particularly when dusted in snow. They look like a quintessential fairytale resting at the base of the mountainous landscape.
- The city of Rothenburg, which houses perhaps the most romantic of all Christmas Markets, can be visited while on the Bohemian Christmas Markets Tour with Albatross Tours.
- Take the Tegelberg Cable Car into the mountains, and take in the spectacular view over 400 snow-covered mountain peaks.
- Enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride in Oberammergau.
- Visit the beautiful Neuschwanstein Castle and Linderhof Palace, both of which showcase the spectacular German architecture that has been admired since their construction in the 19th century.
- Enjoy the bigger cities of Frankfurt and Munich, which showcase German culture in a myriad of different ways.
Whatever you choose to do, and wherever you choose to go, there’s no denying that Christmas in Germany is a traditional, unique and enchanted experience.